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Residents of book-starved areas lobby hard to bring library home

In a matter of months, residents in northwest Hillsborough County banded together, lobbied hard and won a bid that will bring a library to their book-hungry communities.

The Upper Tampa Bay Friends of the Library drew support from people living in Citrus Park, Town 'N Country and Westchase, and together they made a successful pitch to have a library built in their corner of the county.

County commissioners on Thursday got a report from the Library Advisory Board recommending a library be built there before 2006. A vote on the proposal will come in two weeks, after it makes a final pass through the county administrator's office.

"We think it's terrific to be considered for funding, and we're waiting for the vote with much anticipation," said Maureen Gauzza, president of the Friends of the Library organization.

The library, to be located in or near Westchase, was one of nine current or proposed library projects to be funded by a $5-million property tax windfall commissioners decided to spend on expansion. Other projects included a new library in south Brandon and another in south county.

Library Advisory Board chairwoman Sandra Cameron described the proposal as "logical, practical, fair and workable." Cameron said the plan allows all currently funded projects to be moved up by at least one year and gave the go-ahead to libraries formerly on the "unfunded" list.

Helen Swisshelm, chairwoman of the board's budget committee, said construction on some of the projects could be speeded up through land donations or grant acquisitions. "If somebody gives us the land, then we don't have to spend a year looking for it," Swisshelm said. "We tried to emphasize fairness to each community that was promised a library in the past."

Commissioner Jan Platt praised the plan. "Well, I think you're miracle workers," Platt said. "Some of us may want to tweak it, but I'm afraid if we start tweaking it, it'll fall apart."

Upper Tampa Bay Friends of the Library member Pam Prysner said Commissioner Jim Norman was a strong ally in the group's bid for a library.

"When the surplus became known, I think we were one of the first ones he thought of," Prysner said. "One way we've been fortunate is that we haven't had to prove a need."

The housing boom in northwest Hillsborough has resulted in heavy traffic, crowded schools and maxed-out youth sports leagues. Now, residents wanting to check out a book must travel to Town 'N Country, and some even use the library in Oldsmar, Prysner said.

_ Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 226-3464 or by e-mail at mabesptimes.com.

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