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Clearwater won't merge Countryside and East Branch libraries

CLEARWATER — Remember the city's controversial proposal to merge the Countryside and East Branch libraries into a big new library between the two locations?

Clearwater officials are now saying that idea is dead.

"I think we've pretty much committed to not doing the consolidated library," said Mayor Frank Hibbard, who had been among those who once favored the idea.

The subject came up this week as officials discussed cutting $20 million out of Clearwater's Penny for Pinellas construction projects that are planned for the next decade.

The slow economy and diminishing sales tax collections are forcing the city to trim its 2011-2020 projects list once again. Officials plan to hold a public hearing on the proposed cuts at a City Council meeting Nov. 18.

Aside from the library issue, council members are weighing the need for a number of other construction jobs, such as building a new City Hall, straightening Bayshore Boulevard north of Drew Street, and expanding the North Greenwood Recreation Complex.

Here's a rundown of some of the proposed changes:

Libraries: The idea was to spend $9 million in Penny for Pinellas sales taxes to build a large, consolidated east-side library at Woodgate Park, located at Countryside Boulevard and Enterprise Road.

Clearwater would close its two eastern library branches and move them into the new building, which would need fewer employees.

But library patrons didn't like the plan, and it turned out that the city wouldn't save as much money per year as it had hoped.

The proposal went on the back burner, and now officials are dropping it entirely. Instead they're planning to spend $7.5 million to modernize and expand the East and Countryside libraries, although they're still looking at possibly merging East Branch with a new St. Petersburg College library someday.

Bayshore Boulevard: There's a sharp curve on Bayshore north of Drew Street. Drivers complain about it. The city has earmarked $2.5 million in Penny funds to realign the road and straighten it out, but now the City Council plans to drop this from the list.

"There's a guardrail there that takes constant abuse and has to be replaced all the time," said city engineering director Mike Quillen. But there have been no serious accidents there.

City Hall: Officials will remove $7 million from the Penny projects list that would have gone toward a new City Hall.

They decided earlier this year not to build one.

Council member George Cretekos was concerned about removing all $7 million: "At some point, this building is not going to be functional. We're going to need money for repairs." Staffers agreed they should set aside some funds for that.

North Greenwood Recreation Complex: Officials plan to spend about $1 million to renovate and slightly expand this rec center. That's because they plan to close the nearby Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and move its various programs and classes into the rec center.

Now there's talk that private donations might be able to save the MLK Center, which needs up to $200,000. However, that remains to be seen. So officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater won't merge Countryside and East Branch libraries 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:41pm]
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