CLEARWATER — Reacting to what residents of Clearwater's northeastern suburbs have been telling them, City Council members will likely vote tonight to build a new Countryside Library instead of renovating the existing one.
The push for a new library is on because the Countryside branch, on State Road 580, is regarded as too small and dated. It was built in 1988, before computers and the Internet were part of daily life.
If officials decide to build a new library, it would go next to the Countryside Recreation Center in Countryside Community Park, 2640 Sabal Springs Drive, a less visible spot just to the north.
Millions of dollars in Penny for Pinellas sales taxes have been earmarked to expand and update the Countryside Library, which is often packed. It's the city's second-busiest library, ranking only behind the much larger Main Library downtown. But the current library site is hemmed in by other buildings and doesn't have enough parking. Countryside Community Park, on the other hand, has plenty of parking.
The council asked for input from Countryside residents regarding what they want.
Judging from emails and phone calls that have come in to City Hall, residents appear to prefer a new library, especially since both options would cost about the same.
Renovating and expanding the current library would cost $6.5 million, while a new 22,500-square-foot library would cost $6.4 million.
Mayor George Cretekos asked city staff 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 wasn't sure that was sufficient.
The only place to put another road is a wide power line corridor that cuts north and south through the area. But that corridor belongs to Progress Energy, which isn't willing to share the right-of-way, city staff said this week.
However, a traffic study found that Sabal Springs Drive by itself would be adequate.
Bill Jonson, the only council member from Countryside, has heard from neighbors that they support putting the new library next to the rec center.
He recalled what one neighbor told him:
"One of their daughters could be participating in recreational activities — dance lessons for instance — and she could take the other daughter to the children's section at the library, and entertain both girls."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.