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Seminole council hopes to rewrite library deal

The city has some problems with the proposal from SPJC for a joint library. A school official remains optimistic that the project will go forward.

A proposed joint library for St. Petersburg Junior College and the city has hit a considerable snag.

The city has three concerns: the contract isn't specific enough, council members want an exit clause should the partnership encounter problems in the future, and they want more credit for their work in securing money. All three concerns threaten the library's future.

For more than two years, Seminole and SPJC have been trying to make the joint-use library come to fruition. These latest concerns represent the biggest dilemma the city has faced since it started talking about the idea.

"They are not supportive of the alternative agreement presented by the college," City Manager Frank Edmunds said. "Unless the college modifies the proposal in three specific areas, it may not receive council support."

The college and the city stand to gain from the partnership by sharing construction and operating costs of the $6.7-million library scheduled to open in 2003. They would further reduce their costs by pooling their resources.

But the original proposal, approved by the council in May, could have been renewed every 20 years and stated the college would have to reimburse the city $3-million if it pulled out. College officials later discovered they couldn't reimburse the city.

The reason? The funds came from the state Public Education Capital Outlay fund, known as the PECO fund, and can only be used for the joint-use library.

If the college or the city backs out, the money goes back to the state. So on Tuesday, college administrators pitched an alternative approach that would make the proposal everlasting and difficult to dissolve.

Council members want the college to add a clause that would allow either party to end the deal with three years' notice. They are trying to look to the future. They know colleges and universities rely on state funding and have been underfunded in the past. A few years from now they don't want to find the city taking up the college's slack if it doesn't have needed funding.

"You should always have a safety valve to get away from a bad situation," said Vice Mayor Jim Dunn.

Second, they want the proposed agreement to show that Seminole lobbied for $3-million from the state Legislature and they want it to be clear that the city is a partner, not a follower. As the proposal is written, it appears to some council members that the college is taking the lead on the project.

"I'm fearful that as we begin the partnership that the city will not be treated as an equal partner," Mayor Dottie Reeder said.

The library will be at SPJC, and the college will be responsible for maintenance and expansion. The city, on the other hand, will be in charge of the staff and will transfer its stacks to the library. Council members want assurances that they will help make decisions about the library's direction, not watch them happen or find out about them later.

"We all recognize that the college and city worked jointly to secure these funds," said Jim Olliver, provost at SPJC's Seminole campus. "We just need to find a way to express that."

Finally, council members need to know how much space in the library will be available to Seminole residents. The proposed library is 50,000 square feet, more than twice the size of the city's existing library. Council members want to be sure that SPJC doesn't gobble up all the extra space with classrooms and other needs and leave the city essentially with the same size library it has now.

"The object of the whole things was to make the library bigger, not equal size," said council member Paul Trexler. "That's just not going to cut it."

Olliver said the ideas will be taken into consideration and he plans to schedule another meeting with council members in the next few weeks. SPJC president Carl Kuttler said he is optimistic about the project and considers Seminole a partner. He pointed to the school's partnerships with four-year colleges to offer advanced college degrees as proof SPJC has a good partnership record.