CLEARWATER — City staff thinks the city's main library hub is vital to the reactivation of downtown, as envisioned by the $55-million Imagine Clearwater redevelopment plan. But they say to accomplish this, the 15-year-old facility needs a facelift — at a cost of more than $6 million.
Interim Assistant City Manager Michael Delk unveiled an overhaul of the library during a recent City Council work session.
The suggested renovations are the results of a feasibility study that was commissioned for the purpose of determining how to balance the aesthetic and programming potential to enhance the library operations.
"The proposed changes really connect the library directly to Osceola Street," Delk told council members. "In addition to that, it connects it as well to Imagine Clearwater, which is a project we are obviously working on implementing sooner rather than later.''
According to Ted Williamson of Williamson-Dacar Associates, the firm that conducted the feasibility study, city staff, library staff and community stakeholders outlined a number of issues they consider limitations to the optimal use of the facility.
Among them are:
• Library access is limited by large events at Coachman Park.
• The rooftop terrace is limited in its use due to weather.
"Originally when they built it, it was utilized as much as they could," Williamson said, noting that it was problematic without anything shielding it from the wind or rain.
"It's very dependent on the weather and at this time, in the summer, it's very hot out there," he said.
• Access to the rooftop terrace is only available through the library.
If it's used off-hours, personnel must be on site to allow access, which can be problematic and inconvenient.
• The Café seating area is a large under-utilized space.
• The large meeting room on the first level of the library is accessible only from inside the library.
• The art gallery is in a limited-accessible area.
"You bring in a lot of really beautiful stuff from the community, but it's really out of the way," Williamson said.
• The Café has limited hours of operation.
• There is a lot of unused space in the entry lobby and first-floor circulation areas.
• There is a need for collaboration/meeting rooms.
The recommended renovations were broken down into categories.
First-floor renovations include moving the library entrance to the southwest corner to integrate with the Imagine Clearwater Bluff Walk; adding a staircase from the first to the third levels; relocating the gallery to a new enclosed space at the southeast corner of the building; adding collaboration and meeting space; and reducing the circulation desk area to provide easier interaction between staff and patrons.
"It's just reorganizing and creating different types of spaces based on current needs within the library," Davidson said.
Those renovations come with a price tag of $1,974,683.
Renovations to the exterior patio, which include the removal of an existing fence and concrete wall and additional landscaping, is estimated to cost $136,325.
Extending the library façade to engage with the public along Osceola Avenue, as well as removal of the current gallery space to make room for additional meeting rooms and creating an entry to the meeting room from Osceola, is expected to cost $401,432.
The bulk of the cost of renovations will go to the rooftop terrace, with an estimated price tag of $3,629,193.
Those renovations will include enclosing the existing 3,000 square-foot roof area and adding an additional 3,000-square-foot area, which will have restrooms and storage areas.
The renovations will be extensive, Delk said, and will best be done all at once.
"When you look at the overall size and scope of the project, it really probably is not in our best interest — or the library's — to divide a project of this size up into multiple disruptions to the library," he said.
Delk said it will take 90 days to complete the next step in the process — permit drawings — which will be submitted to council for their approval in the fall.
"I think this is a good opportunity here and we are asking you to let us proceed," Delk said.
Despite the city's enthusiasm for the project, there is one fly in the ointment.
According to finance director Jay Ravins, there is not enough money in the Imagine Clearwater project — which he estimated to have around $4 million — to accomplish the renovations. Because this particular project was not included in the $55 million project, city officials would have to find some source of internal financing to fund the renovations, he said.
Despite the lack of funding source, council members agreed they were comfortable enough with the study and authorized Delk to move forward.