Timeline still calls for construction to start in fall 2017
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Nov. 22 to correct information about the size of the new and former library buildings.
Although the new single-story Venice Public Library will have slightly less square footage than the previous one, the design essentially will create more usable space, Todd Sweet, founder of Sweet Sparkman Architects of Sarasota, has explained to the Sarasota County Commission.
The schedule calls for construction of the building to begin in the fall of 2017. As proposed, it will have usable space of 19,225 square feet in its interior, compared to the 19,073 of usable space in the former facility, according to figures provided by Sweet Sparkman.
The building that formerly housed the library on Venice’s Cultural Campus was closed at the end of January by a vote of the County Commission. Persistent problems with mold led board members to fear for the safety of patrons, volunteers and staff, they said.
Sweet Sparkman began working with county staff in March to determine the best location for the new library, Jennifer Perry, public services manager for the county’s Libraries and Historical Resources Department, reminded the County Commission during its regular meeting on Nov. 9.
In considering a new site, Sweet told the board, he and his team considered 15 sites on and off Venice Island. “We looked at raw land; we looked at parkland; we even looked at repurposing former buildings in Venice.” Finally, he added, the Cultural Campus won out as the best location for the building.
Then the team began trying to determine the optimal location of the new structure, he continued. Among the options, he said, were a site in the northeast corner of the campus, in an effort to mirror the footprint of the Art Center and “create a symmetrical grouping of buildings on the … campus,” and even constructing the library in the northwest corner of the campus.
The team wanted to come up “with good reasons for our recommendation of where to put the library,” Sweet pointed out.
After four public workshops at the Venice Community Center and two at Venice High School — the latter, primarily for parents and students — “ultimately, the decision was made to put the library in roughly the same location that it’s currently in,” he told the board. That is the northeast corner of the Cultural Campus.
His group also has been working to design a parking plan with spaces more convenient to the library, Sweet continued. The site has sufficient room for 125 spots, he added, but the goal is to try to put more of them in closer proximity to the new building. One means of doing that, he continued, is to move the curb cut on Milan Avenue further west, which would give the perception of more parking dedicated to the library.
On a related matter: Sweet reported that while he and his team had met with City of Venice staff about the potential for creating a Venice Museum and Archives in the same structure as the new library, that did not work out.
Originally, he noted, city staff had suggested a two-story building within the footprint of the current facility. Sweet Sparkman’s team could have continued to work on the library planning while city staff proceeded with the museum portion of the project, he said. However, the changes in the design would have reduced the number of parking spaces to 99.
Finally, Sweet told the board, city staff decided to locate the museum/archives building south of the existing Triangle Inn, so sufficient parking would be available on the library site. The Triangle Inn is located at 351 S. Nassau St.
“We’re on an expedited schedule” to finish the schematic design of the new library in December, Sweet pointed out. His plan was to submit the necessary materials to the City of Venice by Nov. 11 to begin the formal process to gain site and development approval, he added.
“I think I’m pretty proud to say the public sector acted as if it was the private sector” in moving along so quickly on the replacement library, Chair Alan Maio told Sweet, “even with all the additional hurdles we have to go through.”
Maio also asked for reiteration of the fact that even though the new facility will have 19,000 square feet — instead of the 25,000 feet of the existing library — more efficient use will be made of the space.
“That’s correct,” Sweet replied.
“It was important to go through this process publicly,” Commissioner Charles Hines pointed out of the recommendation for the location.
It was his understanding, Hines added, that the Venice City Council the previous day “did not support any delay” on the construction of the new facility.
Furthermore, Hines said, members of the public had made it clear to him: “‘The [existing] building was bad; take it down.’”
Hines added that he believes broad public support has been shown for the path the County Commission is taking to construct the new facility.
For the present
In the meantime, Perry told the board, staff has heard “lots and lots of positive comments” about the temporary library services in the Hamilton Building, which was renovated for its current purpose.
It took less than four months from the time the commission approved the construction contract for that project, she added, until the Hamilton Building reopened as the temporary library on Oct. 4.
Perry also noted that the number of items borrowed from the facility doubled last month from the count taken during the previous months, when library services were provided in space allocated for that purpose within the Venice Community Center.