Orange County and the city of Orlando may have the solution to a major problem for Horizon West residents who have been lobbying for their own library branch.
In January, the Orange County Library System’s Board of Trustees approved the purchase of a parcel of land for the Horizon West branch, which will be located next to the upcoming Horizon West Regional Park. The land is jointly owned by the city of Orlando and Orange County.
However, residents of Lake Nona also had been lobbying for their own branch. The competing demand for new facilities created a funding dilemma for the library system and put the future of both branches on hold.
Kristopher Shoemaker, CFO for OCLS, said in March the library system currently has funding for one location to be complete in fall 2025. However, building a second location would not be possible for three to four years after that, depending on economic conditions and construction costs.
“These dates are estimates given current procurement processes, economic conditions and construction costs,” Shoemaker wrote in an email. “Any changes to the cost assumptions will alter the timetable.”
But a new option, offering leases over purchases, could result from a proposed partnership between the OCLS Board of Trustees, the city of Orlando and Orange County. If accepted, the plan would make it possible to secure locations and build facilities in both areas without straining the OCLS budget or impacting taxpayers.
According to a proposal put forth by the city and county, the library would lease the land on which the Horizon West branch would be built, with OCLS assuming the construction costs. Meanwhile, the city of Orlando would assume the cost of designing and building the Lake Nona branch as part of a new government center, located on Dowden Road. The library would then lease the portion of the facility that would house the Lake Nona branch.
“Instead of the library needing to purchase that whole (Horizon West) parcel, which I believe was around 17 acres, (the county and the city) are offering us a ground lease on the acreage that we need to build the branch, which will be a much smaller footprint... I believe between two and three acres,” said Bethany Stone, one of two chief branch officers for the Orange County Library System. “That also means less long-term maintenance for land we would not be using for our building, so it’s a big positive for the library.”
The proposal also would create cost savings by sharing parking and outdoor areas with the nearby Horizon West Regional Park.
“Sharing that space would allow for outdoor programming which isn’t possible at every library branch, depending on their location,” Stone said.
Outdoor programming generally is geared toward children’s activities.
“The library has long had an interest in expanding services in Lake Nona and Horizon West, but it was not in our budget to purchase land and begin construction in two locations at once,” Library Director/CEO Mary Anne Hodel said in a prepared statement. “This plan would make it possible to do exactly that and to give both communities libraries that we can be proud of. We are grateful to the city and county for coming to the table with this innovative proposal.”
“The Lake Nona and Horizon West projects will, through combined resources, save taxpayer money and provide convenient library locations for residents in multiple communities,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said. “This partnership is another example of how collaboration helps us build a community that works for everyone by having more local learning and education options for our residents.”
The agreement is contingent on approval by the Library Board, Orange County Commission and the Orlando City Council.
“The goal is to have an official agreement ready to be voted on by the end of this year,” she said.