ZEPHYRHILLS — A roomful of adults wielding strong opinions about where the city should locate its library didn't intimidate 9-year-old Sarah Juergens one bit.
Following protocol, Sarah handed City Clerk Linda Boan a slip of paper before Monday night's City Council meeting began, letting her know she had something to say about the library issue. The council had voted in November on a $1.5 million expansion and renovation of the library in its current location on Eighth Street, but some residents and business leaders asked officials to consider a vacant bank building on Fifth Avenue.
When her turn came, Sarah stood next to the lectern she couldn't see over and spoke with passion and animation.
"I don't want the library to be moved," said Sarah, who attended the meeting with her mother, Laura. "Where it's at now, kids can walk to it with their family members."
Putting the library on Fifth Avenue, where there is more traffic and closer proximity to U.S. 301, could be dangerous, Sarah said, holding a microphone with one hand and gesturing with the other. A kid could get hit by a car. An older person could get hit, too. So could someone in a wheelchair, she noted, and maybe even a whole family.
Proponents of relocating the library into the former Wachovia building spoke of the economic benefits such a move would bring. Downtown merchants might attract more customers from the additional foot traffic of library patrons. Tim Linville, one of the building owners, estimates the asset value to the city could be about $1.6 million with the library in his building, compared to roughly $1.4 million in its current home. Linville also questioned whether any pedestrians have ever been hit by cars while walking on Fifth Avenue. Police Chief David Shears couldn't say for sure.
Others joining Sarah in opposing relocation included Jerry Pricher, chairman of the library board, who handed over a petition with 525 signatures of folks who want the library to stay put.
City Council member Jodi Wilkeson asked her peers to reconsider the library location after a few dozen people showed up at the last regular council meeting sporting "Library on Fifth" stickers. She felt she owed it to constituents to take another look at the issue, even though previous studies determined the Wachovia building wasn't feasible for a library. Wilkeson believes there aren't any problems that can't be resolved.
Since the last meeting, City Manager Jim Drumm and council member Lance Smith said they have heard from the owners of other vacant buildings who want the city to consider their properties for the library. Both men said that if the council agreed to move forward with moving the library, they would need to follow the law and seek requests for proposals before making a final decision on where to put it.
In the end, Wilkeson's motion to reconsider the library location failed when no one on the council backed it up with a second.