More people have checked out library books in recent years and the county is expanding or replacing five libraries, beginning this summer.
The projects will cost about $20 million and are planned for the Jimmie B. Keel, Bloomingdale, Robert W. Saunders Sr. and Upper Tampa Bay branches, as well as the Seminole Heights Branch Library, the largest of the projects under way.
Seminole Heights neighbors viewed designs recently at the current library at 4711 N Central Ave., which will close some time this summer before being torn down to make space for a new building. The new facility will open in October 2013.
"It is a very busy neighborhood branch," said Suzanne George, a librarian who oversees the library built in 1965.
Libraries have become more popular in recent years, said Joe Stines, director of Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative.
"We always see an increase when the economy is slow," he said, adding that patrons check out more items and use free programs rather than go to see movies.
These days, the number of items checked out tops 10 million a year, ranking it in the 20 largest libraries nationally, Stines said. The cooperative serves more than 1 million people through 30 locations.
However, Stines said, circulation has been slightly less in the past couple months, perhaps a harbinger of economic growth.
In Seminole Heights, patrons and staff will be diverted during construction to other sites, such as the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. branch, on E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and the North Tampa location, on N Boulevard.
At 22,000 square feet, the new building will more than triple the size of the cramped current library. The two-story brick building will feature stained-glass windows, consistent with the neighborhood's character — similar to the Gothic revival styled Hillsborough High School across the street.
It will be a focal point of the neighborhood, said Pat Benjamin, president of the Friends of Seminole Heights Library.
A second-floor balcony will have the "feel of a front porch," she said. Inside, a special collection room will hold books about the bungalow-style homes in the neighborhood. The room will be named for Stephen Gluckman, a neighborhood preservationist, archaeologist and professor at the University of South Florida who died in 2007.
Benjamin and other community members worked with architecture firm Fleischman Garcia for more than three years on the design. It includes a meeting room and a pick-up area for parents whose kids go to the library after school.
To make space for the building and 56 parking spaces in the back, the county bought 1.2 acres of adjacent land from the school district. There are just nine spots currently at the site. The project will cost $6.9 million, including $2.9 million for land, parking and public art, said Bill Hand, project manager for the county's real estate department.
The site sits outside of historic zoning regulations, Hand said, yet it was designed to comply with new design codes that will soon be in place in Seminole Heights. It will sit closer to the street with wide sidewalks and trees.
Expansions at the other branches will create more parking space and room for children's areas and community and multi-purpose rooms.
Additions to the current Jimmie B. Keel and Bloomingdale library buildings will each cost $1.9 million, while the expanded Upper Tampa Bay branch will cost $2 million.
Although Seminole Heights is the most expensive project to begin construction this summer, a plan to replace the Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library on Nebraska Avenue will cost about the same, at $7 million. The project, however, is still in the design phase and won't be completed until the end of 2014. It will include an African-American cultural center for the history of Tampa's black community.
Funding for the projects comes from property taxes set aside for libraries.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.