CLEARWATER — Reacting to what Countryside residents are telling them, Clearwater's elected leaders are strongly leaning toward building a new Countryside Library next to the Countryside Recreation Center.
Judging from emails and phone calls coming in to City Hall, residents appear to prefer a new library to renovating Countryside's current 25-year-old library branch, especially since both options would cost about the same.
Based on what the City Council is saying, Clearwater will soon be breaking ground on a new library. However, the council wasn't ready to vote on it this week.
First, Mayor George Cretekos wants the city to look at the possibility of putting in another access road to the recreation center site where a new library would go. Right now, the only way to get there is Sabal Springs Drive, a two-lane street off Countryside Boulevard. The mayor isn't sure that's sufficient.
"I still have a very strong concern about having one road leading into the Countryside Recreation Center that now becomes a thoroughfare because of the usage of the library," Cretekos said. "The access is on a really narrow road that goes through a neighborhood."
Where would another road go?
City staffers say the only possibility is a wide power line corridor that cuts north-and-south through the area. It runs from State Road 580 to the west side of Countryside Community Park, where the recreation center and five baseball fields are located.
That corridor belongs to Progress Energy. Clearwater currently leases part of it for overflow parking during baseball season at the park. Clearwater officials will ask the power company to allow the city to put a new road in Progress Energy's right of way.
"Really, it's going to up be Progress Energy if they're going to allow us to come in and pave," said Kevin Dunbar, parks and recreation director.
The Progress Energy Trail, which is being built in phases, will someday go through that right of way as well. Dunbar thinks both a trail and a road would fit.
The city will also do a traffic study for the new site, which is expected to take four to six weeks.
The push for a new library is on because the current Countryside branch is too small and dated. Millions of dollars in Penny for Pinellas sales taxes are earmarked to expand and update it.
But the current library site is hemmed in by other buildings and doesn't have enough parking, says Clearwater library director Barbara Pickell. Countryside Community Park, on the other hand, has plenty of parking.
Renovating and expanding the current library would cost $6.5 million, while a new 22,500-square-foot library would cost $6.4 million.
The City Council asked for input from Countryside residents regarding what they want. The city got a lot of input.
"I read all of the emails," said Vice Mayor Paul Gibson. "There was overwhelming support for the new library next to our current rec center."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.