County Commission OK’s Law Library’s move back ‘home,’ but questions how long it will be there

The Sarasota County Commission agreed April 24 to pay for the Law Library to move back to its former Adams Lane location. Photo by Norman Schimmel.

In spite of concerns that the City of Sarasota once again would force the facility’s relocation, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously April 24 to allocate $65,000 to enable the Law Library to move back to its 2050 Adams Lane location under terms of a five-year lease with the city.

The commission also agreed to pay the library’s estimated $15,000 annual expense for utilities. However, Commissioner Nora Patterson won approval for a cap on the allocation, which will prevent it from rising more than 10% above the estimates.

The city will charge rent of $10 per year for the lease, which is set to go into effect May 7. The lease also calls for the city to pay for all improvements and repairs to the Law Library space.

Prior to the vote, Patterson pointed out that the lease agreement had a 180-day termination clause.

In discussions during the meeting with Chief Judge Andrew Owens of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court and members of the Sarasota Bar Association, Patterson said, “You really don’t know how long this is going to be for.”

Then-City Manager Robert Bartolotta requested in October 2010 that the Law Library lease be ended, because the city was planning an expansion of its employee health clinic, according to a memo provided to the County Commission for the April 24 meeting.

In anticipation of that move, the memo pointed out, county staff began researching “alternative locations within a short distance of the Silvertooth Judicial Center” on Ringling Boulevard.

“We twisted ourselves, all of us … into pretzels, trying to find another facility,” Patterson said. “I have this feeling that in a couple of years, you might again have the rug pulled out from under you.”

“We tried to actually not move and keep the other half” (of the Adams Lane building), 12th Judicial Circuit Court Administrator Walt Smith said. “But the then-city manager didn’t want to do that.”

As a result of the search process — and the assistance of a consultant — the Law Library collection was reduced by about 50%, with the most frequently used volumes (about 10%) moved to Selby Library.

The remainder of the collection was sorted in boxes and placed in the county’s Orange Avenue Annex, the memo said.

Along with the fraction of the collection, two public computer terminals with Internet access to Westlaw (a legal software program) and a staff computer were placed in a small space in Selby Library, the memo said.

Owens told the commissioners the bar association had continued to seek a permanent home for the Law Library, with more space than Selby Library could provide, but the effort had been unsuccessful.

In late 2011, according to the memo provided to the commission, county staff learned that the City of Sarasota had revised its plans for the health clinic. As a result, about half of the space the Law Library formerly had occupied on Adams Lane was available again.

Sarasota Bar Association President Derek Byrd told the commission, “A couple of terminals is not what we consider a functioning law library,” he said, adding that another problem is Selby Library’s distance from the courthouse in downtown Sarasota.

“Adams Lane,” Byrd pointed out, “is right next to the courthouse.”

Byrd added, “I know (county) money is tight … (but) we do believe (the library is) a community asset.”

Court and bar association officials also asked the commissioners April 24 to consider allocating $75,000 for updated library materials out of the county’s 2013 fiscal year budget.

Smith told the commissioners, “What we can’t seem to find the revenues for is keeping the books and publications up-to-date.”

(Sixty-five percent of each Sarasota County attorney’s annual $25 license fee goes to the Law Library fund.)

With the county allocation, Smith added, the library would have enough money to operate for two more years.

“You’re going to invest a substantial amount of money on the assumption that the city is not going to tell you to get out in a year or two,” Patterson said.

Chairwoman Christine Robinson suggested the Law Library Board of Trustees approach the county’s community foundations about assistance with future funding. “For instance,” she said, “they have programs where they have competitive donations. … (The Law Library) might qualify under some of these.”

“I understand and appreciate all you’re trying to do,” Commissioner Joe Barbetta told the attorneys, “but you’ve got to get into the fundraising mode.”