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City supports library renovations
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ST. PETE BEACH – City commissioners pitched their support Feb. 12 for the proposed expansion and renovation of the St. Pete Beach Library and adjacent parking area, hoping to obtain county and other funds to help finance the project.

The Pinellas Public Library Cooperative has about $570,000 of capital funds available for library projects. The maximum amount to be awarded to one project is $200,000. The cooperative’s agreement with the city expires Sept. 30 and a new agreement is being developed. Some versions of the new proposal do not include any more funding set aside to assist libraries within the cooperative with capital projects. Consequently, city officials said, this may be the last time for the city to apply for the fund through the cooperative.

The five-year capital improvement plan adopted by the City Commission for fiscal year 2013 includes a plan for library improvements. The cost of the work, which has been budgeted for fiscal year 2016, is about $1.5 million to $2 million.

City Manager Michael Bonfield told commissioners although the city has not had a lot of discussions about the details related to the project, former Mayor Ward Friszolowski, whose architectural firm does a lot of library work around the state, donated time to give the city conceptual plans, “which our staff is very excited about.”

“It gives us something to at least start the ball rolling,” he said.

Once the application for funding is submitted, the city typically has five years to complete the project.

Libraries in St. Pete Beach and Madeira Beach are the only ones in the county since the cooperative was formed that haven’t undergone a significant expansion, renovation or new construction, city officials said.

“If you go around Pinellas County, all the libraries are relatively modern, with the exception of us and Gulf Beaches,” Bonfield said. “We’ll certainly make a good argument of why we should be considered.”

City officials said the library gets heavy use. Eighty percent of city residents have active library cards, according to a 2011 report. Circulation has increased 25 percent, computer use 16 percent, reference queries 125 percent and programs offered 26 percent since 2010.

Library Administrator Phyllis Ruscella said if the city is able to get a grant from the cooperative, she is prepared to apply to the state for capital improvements funding

The Friends of the St. Pete Beach Library is interested in beginning a capital fund-raising campaign of its own, city officials said. The city hopes to obtain grants, private donations and some city funds for the project.

The 8,200-square-foot building, at 365 73rd Ave., was built in 1969 and partially renovated in 1995.
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