FORECAST: A new chapter kicking off in Horizon West

A new Orange County Library System branch currently is being planned in between Horizon West’s Town Center and the village of Bridgewater, adjacent to the future Horizon West Regional Park.

Photo courtesy of Orange County
Photo courtesy of Orange County
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Horizon West residents will welcome yet another major development to the rapidly expanding community with the addition of a new Orange County Library System branch. 

On June 9, 2022, the OCLS Board of Trustees approved leases for new library branches in both Horizon West and Lake Nona.

The library signed a ground lease with Orange County in 2022 for the design and construction of the library in the Horizon West Regional Park. 

The branch location will offer 20,000 square feet of library space with meeting rooms, study rooms and OCLS’s first planned outdoor events area. 

The project, led by architect Borelli & Partners and contractor HJ High Construction, is aiming for a spring/summer 2025 opening, according to Steve Powell, director/CEO at OCLS.

“The library had been looking for development opportunities for a branch in this fast-growing community for several years,” Powell said. “Due to the creative thinking and collaboration with Orange County, the library was able to acquire space to build in one of the most beautiful locations in Horizon West. We are thankful to our active partners Commissioner Nicole Wilson, Mayor Jerry Demings and Orange County Parks and Recreation for helping OCLS make this dream library become a reality.”


A plan for a Horizon West library branch has been in the works for many years. 

In fact, OCLS Board of Trustees’ meeting minutes reflect discussions about a Horizon West branch since at least 2016.

Since March 2018, Powell said OCLS has been searching for affordable land to purchase or retail space to lease in both Horizon West and Lake Nona. 

In April 2018, library staff shared with the library’s Board of Trustees that both areas of the county needed a branch, but the library’s branch expansion budget only allocated enough funding to begin construction of one branch at a time.

The Horizon West project began to make initial leeway during the November 2020 Board of Trustees meeting, where the board approved a resolution selecting the Horizon West “East Parcel,” located at the intersection of Tiny Road and Hamlin Groves Trail, as the preferred location for the branch.

In January 2021, the library board voted to commit to purchase a parcel of land at the northeast corner of the future Horizon West Regional Park. This action allowed OCLS staff to proceed with negotiations for the land purchase.

However, plans were interrupted temporarily when residents in Lake Nona sought to have OCLS build a branch in their community. 

Although the library only had funding to build one new branch at a time, Orange County and city of Orlando officials collaborated to bring a proposal to the OCLS board to suggest a possible path to funding two locations simultaneously.

The county worked with the board to include the Horizon West branch in the design of the Horizon West Regional Park, and the city of Orlando agreed to include the Lake Nona branch in the government center it has planned for Dowden Road. 

The library signed a ground lease with Orange County in 2022 for the design and construction of a library in the Horizon West Regional Park. 

As the District 1 county commissioner, Nicole Wilson was essential to the process as she served on the Orange County Library District Governing Board and approved the annual budget.

“Over the past several years, we have closely monitored expenses, while saving money toward branch construction,” Powell said. “We are now in a place where we can actively work on both locations at the same time.”


OCLS agreed to design the 11-acre campus, which includes 1.25 acres for the 20,000-square-foot library building, shared parking, an access road, walkways, retention ponds and space for a future multi-use facility. 

The library will have three large meeting rooms. One room will be 1,500 square feet, and the other two will be 750 square feet. 

“Our goal is that the rooms will be able to be combined if needed into one large meeting room of 3,000 square feet, making it flexible enough to accommodate larger groups when requested,” Erin Sullivan, chief marketing and public relations officer at OCLS, said. “The meeting rooms will also have access to an outdoor area.”

In addition, the branch plans to have two small study rooms, of 400 square feet each, and two training rooms where the library can host classes and events.

Perhaps one of the most special highlights of the branch is it will have an outdoor stage with a grassy seating area to host large events and outdoor programming. It will be the first branch to feature such an expansive outside area dedicated to library events. 

OCLS officials said they have had several meetings with Borrelli & Partners and HJ High to discuss library programmatic requirements, design and LEED certification. 

Because the library will be located within a county park, OCLS also has been working with Orange County Parks & Recreation for approval on a site plan. Currently, the architect team is working on the design plan.

“We are in the initial stages of site layout and building design, and we have completed the first review toward achieving LEED Silver,” Powell said. “We’re expecting the branch to cost around $22.5 million, but due to supply-chain issues and wildly fluctuating construction costs, it is hard to determine an accurate number.”


Danielle King, chief branch officer overseeing the project, said the residents of Horizon West have been supportive of the library.

“We are excited that we are able to build a branch in this amazing community,” King said. “The Horizon West library will be designed to take advantage of some of the beautiful outdoor elements of the park, blending innovation with nature. … The location of the library in the Horizon West Regional Park will create synergy between the park and library, which will generate new opportunities for the community to learn, grow, and connect.”

As time has progressed, libraries have evolved to be about more than just checking out books.

As the needs of the community have changed, Sullivan said OCLS has adapted its services to meet the new needs.

“As more people turn to using e-readers and audiobooks, we have built a robust catalog of digital titles that can be streamed or downloaded to a Kindle or smartphone,” she said. “I use my Apple Homepod all the time to listen to audiobooks I’ve checked out through the library. We also offer online access to magazines and periodicals through digital services, such as Pressreader — if you’ve been on a JetBlue flight, this is the same service they offer, so you can read magazines in flight.”

In addition, as the demographics of the community are changing, the library offers a growing number of language learning offerings.

There are in-person classes for people who want to learn basic Spanish, as well as classes for people for whom English is a second language. Community members who wish to learn a language on their own can download the Mango Languages or Rocket Languages apps, log in with their library card and learn whatever language they choose at their own speed.

Libraries also have come to serve as gathering spaces, where people can come together to meet, learn or just participate in unique experiences that don’t cost anything. 

Sullivan said the library hosts events, including author events, cooking demonstrations, book clubs, sewing and knitting classes, tech classes and craft activities for kids and adults.

Carissa Hickok-Bergeron, Horizon West resident, said she brings her 3-year-old son to the Winter Garden and Windermere library branches multiple times a week.

“I believe our new branch will positively impact our community by creating opportunities to learn, grow and even meet other members of our community,” she said. “My son currently participates in library programs and activities such as yoga, crafts, story time, American Sign Language class and the pre-kindergarten readiness program. He completed the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Challenge through our library system before turning 3 years old. We check out several books each week.”

The mother said one of her favorite parts about OCLS is meeting other families.

“Our new branch will add a closer location for my family, making it even more convenient to pick out books and participate in fun, educational programs,” she said. “Creating a love of reading but allowing for connection within the community and fun learning experiences has been wonderful for my family.”

Recently, the library also has made some changes to make sure they are accessible and user friendly. For example, in October, the system joined a growing number of libraries across the country that have eliminated overdue fines for materials that are late. 

“Life happens, and we know that, so we don’t want there to be shame or penalties for using the library and returning a book that’s overdue,” Sullivan said.

This year, OCLS will turn 100 years old, and the library is hosting a kickoff event Saturday, Jan. 7, to launch a year’s worth of special events and programs that mark the centennial year. 

The library will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony with elected officials from around the county to help the system rededicate the library to the community for the next 100 years that morning. 

Those who wish to find out more about the event, and others, can click here.



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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