LARGO -- The question of what to do with the now emptying Largo Library when it ends it use in a matter of weeks is still undetermined even in the face of a persuasive presentation from Carl Kutler, president of St. Petersburg College.
Probably the most dynamic figure in Pinellas County, Kutler could talk a hungry dog off a meat wagon and he was hitting on all cylinders at Tuesday night's Largo City Commission meeting.
The now old library building has 36,000 feet of very useful space in a prime location with 125 parking spaces. It will be totally empty with the opening of the new library July 30 across the street.
And, parenthetically, prospects for the new library are looking up as George Feaster reported at Tuesday's meeting that the public donations for the new building have now reached $1,930,000 surpassing the original goal by $30,000.
Largo has paid about $30,000 for a consultant to suggest what to do with the old building. Even the history of that is rife with controversy with some folks still grumbling over paying a consultant for what, they say, Largo's staff could have figured out.
A representative from Herbert Halback, Inc., the consultant, made a presentation Tuesday night, based on the report it had submitted to the city. In brief, its idea was that the city continue use of the building, utilizing it perhaps, among other things, for arts education programming in conjunction with the nearby Cultural Center.
The presentation was brief and did not seem to get a lot of attention from the commission members.
Then Kutler made his presentation and he is spellbinding, so much so he could keep an audience fascinated by just reciting a recipe for bread pudding.
SPC came into the picture just recently as the product of an outgrowth of a lunch between Mayor Bob Jackson and Kutler.
Kutler is a doer and he has brought many innovative educational ideas centered around SPC in recent years. Much of it involves "partnering," and as a result he has put Pinellas (he correctly pronounces it "Pyenellas") County on the national educational map.
There is a new and growing educational specialty in orthotics and prosthesis studies and SPC is beginning a degree program in that.
This came up at the lunch and Jackson mentioned the old library as a possible site. Kutler obviously liked the idea and though neither man had the backing of, on one hand, the City Commission or, on the other, a board of trustees, exploratory talks were begun.
There was much sentiment for an arts building and the proponents of that, opposed to the Jackson-Kutler idea, mustered a claque of 16 citizens (some of them children) to speak against the prosthetics school and for the more artsy-craftsy approach to use of the old building.
City Manager Steve Stanton seemed to lean toward the SPC plan because, for one thing, it does not cost the city anything.
Noting that much focus had been on disputes between him and Jackson, Stanton commented, "Mayor Jackson and I agree that we have been spending money in areas that are not sustainable."
Jackson pointed out that using the building as arts fans desire would cost the city several million dollars. "We are subsidizing the Cultural Center to the tune of $550,000 a year," he said.
"We never planned on that," he continued, "but it has gone up each year -- $250,000 then $300,000 then $400,000 and now $550,000."
Apparently to the art struck youth with their penchant for dancing and posing, money is no object.
Finally, the commission agreed to have the city staff continue talks with St. Petersburg College and to further discuss the subject at a work shop meeting.
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