Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Expansion plans for east Tampa library moving along, but funding still an issue

The county has taken the first step in an attempt to expand the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Library in East Tampa.

There are tentative agreements to purchase three adjacent lots, Eric Watkins of Hillsborough County's real estate department told nearly 40 residents at a meeting last week.

Two of the lots are owned by a couple, and the county has offered $56,000 for both. For the third lot, the county has offered $12,500. The properties are east of the current library location.

"We have not closed on any lots," he said. "We are still in our due diligence period."

A preliminary conversation has also been held with First Baptist Church of College Hill's pastor about sharing parking on two nearby lots, Watkins said.

The Rev. Evan Burrows, First Baptist's pastor, said though he had a conversation with the county, there have been no major discussions with the church's leadership. But they have been notified about a shared parking arrangement.

"There was a phone call and they said, 'Here is what we want to do,' and asked if the church would be interested and that's where the conversation ended," Burrows said. "We would need something in writing, and I'm waiting to hear back from them."

While the county is buying land that could double the size of the 8,000-square-foot library, there is no money for construction right now. The C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Library is the second project on the county library system's unfunded list. Several library renovations projects are currently under way, and a new library will be built on N 22nd Avenue in the University area.

For that new library, the county is pursuing an arrangement with the school district for a piece of property next to Muller Elementary, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Libraries director Joe Stines said. The 10,000-square-foot library, just north of Fowler Avenue, is expected to be completed in fall 2015.

He added that an expansion is needed at C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Library. Circulation is up 16 percent, and computer sign-ins are up 5 percent. There has been a 25 percent increase in adult programming and a 50 percent increase in children's programming. Since October 2011, 58,832 people have visited the library.

"Through some wise planning, (county commissioners have) been able to budget some money for some land," Stines said at the meeting. "In the future budget cycle, we will need your public support (for construction funding)."

Stines, who reminded those in attendance that they pay a library tax every year, said there has been a 77 percent increase in the library square footage countywide since 2006 and that 10 million items were checked out last year.

Former County Commissioner Thomas Scott was pleased at the meeting's turnout.

"This expansion is critical not only for East Tampa but the surrounding area," he said. "It was a good turnout, and there were some very good questions."

Howard F. Harris Jr. was in attendance and works with the Ada T. Payne Friends of The Urban Libraries, which supports the library.

"I'm pleased we are at this point," he said. "The library is most important and the room here is booked all the time."

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