CLEARWATER — The Countryside neighborhood will have a new library.The City Council decided Wednesday night to build a new facility rather than renovate the existing branch.
The unanimous vote came after little discussion. Building a 22,500-square-foot library had broad support.
City residents poured in dozens of emails and calls in support of the new facility, library director Barbara Pickell said.
The $6.4 million library next to Countryside Recreation Center in Countryside Community Park should open within two years, she said. Meanwhile, the current branch will remain open.
"That's one of the advantages of this plan," she said.
The branch at 2741 State Road 580, less than a half-mile from the new site, is small and outdated. Although it's the city's second-busiest branch, it opened in 1988, before the Internet age. Library officials determined the 16,000-square-foot facility required renovation for more computer space and other modern features — a slightly more expensive option.
Millions of dollars in Penny for Pinellas sales taxes have been earmarked for the new library.
Some residents voiced concern that the new library at 2640 Sabal Springs Drive wouldn't have adequate parking, especially with sports and other activities at the community center. A traffic study found that the two-lane street could handle the increased volume.
After council member Bill Jonson showed a photo of a young mother pushing a stroller perilously close to the road, Mayor George Cretekos said the city should "maybe look at additional protection" for pedestrians.
City officials approached Progress Energy about building an access road through a wide power corridor running north and south through the area, but the utility company wasn't interested in sharing the right of way.
Hours before the vote, several patrons at the bustling current branch were unaware of the city's plans.
Bob Tinsley, 67, lives about a block away from the current branch, which he visits several times a week. He doesn't think it's cramped or out of date, but, he said Wednesday, "new is always nice."
Jonson said the positives of the project outweighed concerns that the new project would be in a less visible location.
"I initially expected there would be more concern with the move. But when I talked to people, the majority of people I talked to were interested in having a new library where parking wouldn't be so restrictive and (they) wouldn't be without a library for 18 months," he said.
Charlie Frago can be reached at (727) 445-4159 or firstname.lastname@example.org.