New Venice library to stand on Cultural Campus, County Commission agrees

Potential co-location of a Venice museum and archives with the facility should not slow down planning and construction, board says

Sarabeth Kalajian. File photo
Sarabeth Kalajian. File photo

With Sarasota County’s libraries director having asserted that the majority of the people who have attended county workshops want to see a new Venice Public Library erected on the City of Venice’s Cultural Campus, the Sarasota County Commission this week unanimously approved that recommendation.

It will be up to County Administrator Tom Harmer and staff to negotiate with Venice City Manager Edward Lavallee on the exact location.

At the same time, the County Commission has asked its staff to contact representatives of Venice Theatre to ascertain whether its parking spaces may be used by patrons after temporary library facilities open in September in the Hamilton Building. The interior renovations of that structure are expected to be completed on Sept. 8, Sarabeth Kalajian, the county’s director of libraries and historical resources, told the board during its regular meeting on June 7, held in Venice.

In response to a question from Commissioner Christine Robinson, Jeff Lowdermilk, manager of the county’s Facilities and Fleet Division, said he had not talked yet with anyone at Venice Theatre but planned to initiate such a discussion.

“I’m disappointed to hear that,” Commissioner Charles Hines said of the lack of contact thus far, pointing out that only a little overlap would be expected between the library’s hours in the Hamilton Building and the times the theater is open. “That conversation should occur.”

In response to another issue, Kalajian brought up on June 7, the commissioners also made it clear that they did not want any potential for co-location of a Venice museum and archives with the new library that will be built to slow down the construction process. Hines suggested the design could be crafted to allow for expansion of the structure, but Robinson stressed that the County Commission would not await the conclusion of fundraising for the museum before the county proceeded with plans for the library.

“I do not want our library to be held up for years while we wait for them to collect their funding,” she told Kalajian. “There is a sense of urgency to get out of this temporary library situation. … I can tell you this much: The three Robinson children who use [the Venice Public Library] will be very upset if they understand they have to wait five years [for a new facility because of museum plans].”

A graphic in the Sweet Sparkman evaluation shows the current library location. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic in the Sweet Sparkman evaluation shows the location of the closed library. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Kalajian also reported on June 7 that staff is negotiating with the Sweet Sparkman architectural firm of Sarasota on a contract for the design of the new library in Venice. She added that the schedule calls for the board to vote on that contract during its July 12 session.

Furthermore, Kalajian said, a contract for preconstruction services for the new library should be ready for the board’s approval in September.

Site evaluation

Sweet Sparkman also was the firm that handled the evaluation of sites for a new public library in Venice, Kalajian explained during her June 7 presentation.

A graphic offers details about the seven sites Sweet Sparkman evaluated. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic offers details about the seven sites Sweet Sparkman evaluated. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The executive summary of the firm’s draft report, dated June 1, says it evaluated seven potential locations. However, the document continues, “The Venice Cultural Campus … offers the best potential for the new Venice Library.” Among the reasons for that, the summary notes, are the facts that the City of Venice already owns the property, so no additional county funding would be needed to purchase land; the site was the home of the former library, which the County Commission closed in January because of concerns about the effects of persistent mold problems on the health of patrons, employees and volunteers; the “site is readily available and zoned for a library use”; it is easily accessible by automobile, bicycle and pedestrians; and the “site is on the island of Venice and highly visible.”

Nonetheless the executive summary points out that, based on a preliminary geotechnical investigation, organic matter in the soil on the property where the former Venice Public Library stood will need to be removed, with fill added, if the new structure is to be placed there. Therefore, Sweet Sparkman recommended “other parcels on the cultural campus be considered.”

The second two sites, ranked in order, were undeveloped land located at 1321 Cortina Blvd. and an industrial location at 312 E. Venice Ave.

Kalajian told the commissioners this week that public comments made during the six community meetings she and her staff have conducted in planning for the new library have made it clear that convenience in reaching the facility — including easy access by pedestrians, bicyclists and those using the county bus system — is very important to patrons. Therefore, she added, staff concurred with Sweet Sparkman’s recommendation about the Cultural Campus site.

A graphic prepared by Sweet Sparkman shows potential locations of the new library on the Cultural Campus. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic prepared by Sweet Sparkman shows potential locations of the new library on the Cultural Campus. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Parking worries

Lueanne Wood. File photo
Lueanne Wood. File photo

During public comments at the start of the board meeting, Venice resident Lueanne Wood raised concerns about parking at the Hamilton Building while it is serving as the temporary library location. The opening of the nearby bridge leads to traffic back-ups, she pointed out, and the area around the building has insufficient parking spaces to accommodate patrons.

When Robinson asked Lowdermilk whether anyone had evaluated the parking situation, he explained that county and City of Venice staff members met just last week and are redrawing the parking site plan to accommodate the specified widths. However, he was not certain of the total number of spaces. He added that the two lots west of the parking area around the Hamilton Building “will accommodate quite a few patrons. … I think the parking in the specific area around that building … will typically be full.”

When Robinson asked for clarification that parking concerns arose in regard to other financially feasible, potential locations for the temporary library, he told her, “That is correct.”

Lowdermilk also explained that city staff is considering erecting a fence to separate the adjacent segment of The Legacy Trail from the parking area at the facility. Bicyclists “will have to traverse to the west of that Hamilton Building to get to the street,” he noted. Therefore, the fence should enhance safety, he indicated, and improve vehicle traffic flow.

Additionally, Lowdermilk said, the staffs are continuing to work with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) to craft a formal parking plan under the bridge. Nonetheless, Lowdermilk added, he felt that matter would be resolved by the time the library opened in the Hamilton Building.

Hines pointed out that he is on the WCIND board, adding that he knows representatives of the agency are “very willing” to work with county staff on parking under the bridge.