School Board is scheduled to vote on the formal document during its Aug. 2 meeting
A public library project in North Port that won broad support during a meeting of local government leaders in January 2014 took another step forward this week.
In approving its July 12 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the Sarasota County Commission agreed to provide $5,578,176 for construction of the facility as part of the new Suncoast Technical College (STC) in North Port, in collaboration with the Sarasota County School Board, according to a memo provided to the board in advance of the July 12 regular meeting in Venice.
On Aug. 2, the School Board is scheduled to vote on the agreement, along with the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) construction contract with the Willis Smith Construction firm of Sarasota, the county staff memo notes. Plans call for the new STC to open in September 2017, the county memo adds.
Assistant County Administrator Lee Ann Lowery reported to the County Commission on July 12 that the groundbreaking and naming ceremony for the library will be held on Sept. 29.
The new STC campus will be on a 24-acre site along the Toledo Blade corridor, near Interstate 75, the memo says. The land was appraised at $50,000 per acre, and the library will occupy 3 acres, the memo points out.
During the Jan. 17, 2014 Convocation of Governments held at the Suncoast Technical College in Sarasota, Ken Marsh, then the Sarasota County School District’s director of long-range planning, explained that Superintendent Lori White directed him and staff about a year earlier to start looking at potential sites for a new STC in North Port. The possibility of collaboration between the school district and the county dated back much further, however, Marsh said. Such discussions began in 2006, focusing on the district’s Woodland Middle School. However, that idea ultimately did not come to fruition. Then, in the spring of 2013, he continued, Sarabeth Kalajian, the county’s director of libraries and historical resources, called him to ask whether the district had any plans for a new school in North Port. “Light bulbs went off all over the place,” Marsh told the local government leaders. “We have been working on this ever since.”
“I think this is an exciting opportunity for all of us,” County Commissioner Carolyn Mason said at the time, as the local government leaders talked about the importance of the college and the library to the North Port community.
The July 12 staff memo to the County Commission points out that North Port “has emerged as the largest city in Sarasota County,” boasting a population of 60,295. Within the next 10 years, the memo continues, that figure is expected to exceed 90,000. Moreover, the memo notes, “North Port has the youngest average age in Sarasota County,” at 40. Nearly 20 percent of the city’s residents are school-age children, the memo adds.
Nonetheless, the city has only one library, which is located on its northern edge, the memo says. Further, among the four South County libraries, the North Port facility “reports the highest activity in visits, collection borrowing, new patron registration and computer use,” the memo points out.
“Staff has identified a number of spatial, financial, and programmatic benefits to a co-located, joint-use library/media center,” the memo continues. “Therefore, County staff has focused on integrating a library facility within the main STC building, which gives the greatest potential benefits to both the School Board and the County.”
As planning proceeded for the STC, the School Board and county staff worked on a proposal for the county to enter into a long-term lease and operating agreement with the School Board, the memo explains. That called for the county to pay a proportional share of the library expenses, the memo says. The library will have 22,321 square feet, the memo notes, with the rest of the STC taking 55,112 square feet. Based on those figures, the memo says, the library will comprise about 29 percent of the total square footage.
The school district did receive a $3-million grant from the Florida Legislature in 2014 for the STC project, the memo notes, with $1 million of that designated for the library.