Countryside library expansion to begin this summer

Plus, the city and a local college are considering a joint venture for a new East Library branch
CLEARWATER — Construction is set to begin in August on a new Countryside Library branch that will include a multipurpose room where patrons will be able to produce their own videos.
And preliminary talks are under way about operating the East Library as part of a joint venture between the city and the Clearwater campus of St. Petersburg College.
A $6.25 million, 22,500-square-foot Countryside Library will be constructed adjacent to the Countryside Recreation Center, 2640 Sabal Springs Drive, close to the current 16,000-square-foot branch at 5741 State Road 580.
The new repository, scheduled to open in September 2015, will be funded with the third round of Penny for Pinellas one-cent sales tax proceeds. Design plans include a “content creation space” equipped with a video camera, computer software for video production and a “green screen” wall for designing various backdrops.
“Many people are now into designing their own social media and music videos. A creation content space will allow people to produce their own YouTube and other videos,” said Barbara Pickell, director of the Clearwater Public Library System.
The space also will provide equipment for video conferencing and other uses. The specially designed multipurpose area is just one of the modern amenities planned for the city's most eastern library branch that just recently celebrated its quarter-century.
“Expansion into a new facility, rather than renovating the current library, was decided because the Countryside branch sees some of the heaviest use and most patrons in the library system,” the director said.
Depending on the season, from 7,000 to 10,000 patrons visit the Countryside branch each month. Locating the new building on recreation center property will allow the library and its multipurpose room to be used by recreation center patrons.
The library branch also will include a children's room complete with a storytelling area. A youth room will feature a separate computer bank for youngsters to do homework or collaborate on projects. Plus, the more spacious library will have many new computers for general use, because Internet access is one of the services most in demand by patrons, the director explained.
“With the downturn of the economy, many people do not have their own Internet access and rely on the library for computer access to apply for jobs or find information on government websites,” she said.
The Countryside branch serves many young families, and about one-third of its catalog is comprised of DVDs, videos, talking books and other materials, Pickell said. Bookshelves and materials are among the costliest items in the budget, she added.
While the Countryside branch won't include a coffee shop like the one at the Main Library, 100 N. Osceola Ave., it will feature a meeting area with vending machines where people can relax, she said. There is a hope that in the future, funding will become available for an outdoor seating area.
Once the new Countryside branch is completed, a project is in the works to relocate the city's East Library branch at 2251 Drew St. closer to the nearby SPC campus at 2465 Drew St.
Plans currently under discussion involve moving the East branch into a building funded as a joint venture with the college's Clearwater campus.
Pickell said “preliminary formal discussions” are taking place to operate a library in conjunction with the college, much like what's currently being done at SPC's Seminole campus.
While design work, planning, more discussion and formal approval by the Clearwater City Council and SPC officials still will have to take place, a new East Library branch could open by spring 2017, she said.
Up to $6.25 million, as part of the city's share of construction costs, could be funded by the third round of Penny for Pinellas.
Pickell said she was happy to hear Property Appraiser Pam Dubov's prediction that property values might rise this year from 3 to 5 percent, which could signal the start of an economic turnaround and bring more funds into the city budget. If the library system were to receive additional funding, its first priority would be to increase its hours and have many of its branches open seven days a week. Some branches now are closed one day a week or have shortened hours because of budget cuts.
“Increasing service would be our main priority,” she said.
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