Perhaps some of the Pinellas library directors who have been forced to reduce their hours and services to the public should check out the Palm Harbor Library and see if it has a secret.
While other libraries are closing on nights or weekends, the Palm Harbor Library remains open in the evenings and on Saturdays. But even more revealing, the Palm Harbor Library has just completed a $1.4-million renovation that brings more space, more light and more services to the community it serves.
Library director Gene Coppola calls the result "a dream," and perhaps it is, because this recession has reduced the flow of dollars to leisure services such as libraries in many communities. The Palm Harbor library renovation, fortunately, was four years in the planning and already was designed before the economic situation became dire.
Still, it is quite an achievement for the library not only to successfully conclude that building project, but also to be able to equip and staff its upgraded facility. The Palm Harbor Library is in an unincorporated area of North Pinellas, and it is funded by a special — and limited — tax the community agreed to pay to provide library service. To fund the sorely needed renovations, the library won a $500,000 state library construction grant, a $247,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provided $500,000 in local matching funds, and received $100,000 raised by the Friends of the Library.
What did that money buy?
An upgraded parking lot, community room and restrooms. A bright, bigger teen room and upgraded children's area. New study rooms and a conference room that will allow for quiet study or meetings. New lighting, new paint and new carpet. Drive-up book drops. A new Friends of the Library bookstore. And a much-needed new fire sprinkler system. One of the most important changes is that the library space is more efficiently and attractively organized now.
The project also included a couple of flourishes on the exterior of the building. New landscaping makes the library, on Nebraska Avenue just west of U.S. 19, look less like an unappealing box. And an unusual, original sculpture by New Orleans artist Michael Cain in front of the building is a colorful addition night or day, since it is illuminated by LED lights after dark.
The Palm Harbor Library has moved a long way from its roots in an Omaha Avenue house more than 30 years ago. Since then, the community has established a record of loyalty to the library, supporting it as taxpayers, patrons and volunteers. Their reward is a brighter, more efficient and more comfortable facility that should serve their needs well for the foreseeable future.