What will it take for Winter Park’s plan for a new library and civic center to become a reality? It all comes down to a vote.
The vote that will determine the fate of a proposed 50,000-square-foot library and 8,000-square-foot civic center in Martin Luther King Jr. Park approaches as residents will check “yes” or “no” on the March 15 general election ballot for a bond referendum of up to $30 million.
Tax money from the referendum and a $2.5 million-dollar contribution from the library will go toward covering a $29.9 million price tag on the entire project.
The new facility at the northwest corner of the park will include a larger space for the library’s collection of books, dedicated computer labs, meeting and studying rooms, quiet spaces and a two-deck, 220-space parking garage.
Library Director of Community Relations Mary Gail Coffee admitted that the price tag has given some residents heartburn, but assured that a new library would address a variety of needs that the existing building on New England Avenue simply can’t anymore, from space issues to outdated wiring embedded deep inside its brick walls.
“It’s a 1978 building trying to serve 21st century people,” Coffee said. “It’s just not up to it.”
“We can’t run all the computers in the next room and the teapot at the same time. We blow that breaker and we have to go and flip it…. We just don’t have not only the space, but the infrastructure. Eventually we’d love to get real fiber and cable and get our Internet speed up to where it should be.”
Much of the cost for the proposed new library will fall on residents. If voters approve the referendum in March, Winter Park homeowners would see their tax bills rise incrementally based on the value of their homes, said City Manager Randy Knight last October. For example, those with homes valued at $300,000 could see their taxes rise by up to $122 a year. And residents with homes valued lower at $100,000 would see their taxes increase by up to $41 per year.
That money would pay a new building that would bring the library into the 21st century, and make the library more of a multi-use facility, Coffee said.
Winter Park Public Library Executive Director Shawn Shaffer has spoken with multiple city boards over the past few months to share ideas and possibilities for the new facility. Shaffer suggested to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Board late last year that a library in Martin Luther King Jr. Park would help expand the downtown core of the city westward, encouraging more people to walk and bike along Morse Boulevard.
“Lots of people walk up and down Park Avenue because there are shops and things to do, so if there’s a destination – if we have a library – that makes Morse Boulevard much more attractive,” Shaffer said.
“I think it’s a chance to improve Morse and make it more bike-friendly … it’s an opportunity to make a trail to that park.”
A new facility would also allow the library a chance to put its historical archives on display for all to see, Coffee said.
“Our Winter Park history and archives collection is incredible, she said. “We have original photos of city founders and city history. But it’s in this terrible, cramped, little space that’s not humidity controlled…. And worse, it’s packed away where nobody can get to it.”
“As far as making them accessible to people [today], it’s a real challenge.”
Coffee said residents are already actively supporting the new library, ready spread the word and place yard signs throughout the city come March.
“As long as I’ve worked here, about 16 years or so, we’ve talked about all the exciting things we could do,” Coffee said. “If only we had the space, the infrastructure or the wiring or even the money for that matter.”
“It always seemed so pie in the sky. But people in the library actually believe it can happen now.”