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New library plans may be cut back

The city is considering whether to reduce the size of the new main library by a third, shaving the cost by more than $2-million, in order to expand and move up other large Penny for Pinellas projects.

The other option the city staff offered commissioners Tuesday was waiting 10 years to start building the 112,000-square-foot library.

The library was only one of the projects on the Penny for Pinellas list brought to commissioners Tuesday. Staffers recommended certain projects be expanded while others be reduced or dropped.

Most other major projects were expanded, not reduced, such as beautifying Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, building the Memorial Causeway bridge and landscaping streets at the beach.

"I was hoping we could at least build the library and build it right," said Arlita Hallam, director of Clearwater's library system. "We would really be cutting back on service. I don't think it's what the public had in mind when they voted for the Penny for Pinellas."

The commission heard City Manager Mike Roberto's recommendations on how to spend the Penny for Pinellas money. Commissioners will meet again in June to begin discussions on the recommendations.

After the meeting, Commissioner J.B. Johnson said he will suggest the full-size library be built as soon as possible.

"I'm disappointed," said Johnson, an advocate for the library. "Seventy thousand square feet is entirely too small. I think people are going to be unhappy. This is just another example of the past. It seems like we can never building something adequately."

Hallam said that to reduce the library by more than 40,000 square feet she would have to cut back the children's section and take out meeting rooms, some special collections and a planned gift and coffee shop.

With those reductions, she said people will not notice much of a difference from the current library, which is 50,000 square feet.

The library was expected to be as large as a Home Depot but may be cut back to about the size of a grocery.

Clearwater is expected to receive $101.2-million between 2000 and 2010 from Penny for Pinellas, the 1-cent-on-the-dollar tax.

The city planned to spend the money on 46 projects, including road improvements, parks, recreations complexes and libraries.

Commissioners learned this month that it will cost $20-million more than the city will receive to build all the projects.

Roberto wants to cut 17 projects and try to find money for them elsewhere.

The projects Roberto recommends cutting include: $13-million to stop flooding in east Clearwater; $4-million to stop erosion of Stevenson's Creek; and several million dollars to renovate 10 parks and five recreation centers.

Roberto said much of the shortfall occurred before he was hired last year when city staff underestimated some design and construction costs and inflation.

But only a handful of projects were underestimated, by about $2-million total.

The rest of the increases stem from Roberto expanding the scope, and cost, of other projects by more than $10-million and using loans to pay for five projects, then paying them back with Penny for Pinellas funds.

Roberto recommends borrowing money to beautify Gulf-to-Bay and to construct the Memorial Causeway bridge, civic center, waterfront park and library. He wants those projects to be completed by 2002, costing an extra $12-million.

Roberto recommends taking money from other Penny projects to pay the interest on the loans for four of those five projects.

But he wants to pay for the loan for the library with part of the $12-million originally allocated for construction. That leaves the library with $8.9-million for actual construction. No money has been set aside to buy land.