Winter Park's Library Should Stay in Our Downtown

Winter Park’s Library Should Stay in Our Downtown


bobandjillEditor’s Note:  Bob and Jill Bendick have lived in Winter Park for almost 20 years. Jill is a retired software engineer. Bob has a background in urban, regional and environmental planning.  

We have lived in Winter Park for almost 20 years and have long been users and supporters of the Winter Park Library.  Jill has spent many Sundays volunteering at the library bookstore.


Good Case for Library Expansion

Through hard work and research the Library Task Force has made a good case for expansion of the library building to serve the people of Winter Park in the 21st Century, but we object to the relocation of the library to either of the two sites in and adjacent to Martin Luther King Park.  A new or expanded library should continue to be located in Winter Park’s downtown area.


Base Final Site Decision on Visioning Process

In May we wrote to the City Commission to suggest that a decision on the expansion and potential relocation of the library should await completion of the Winter Park visioning process now underway.  Our reasoning was that a new library, as the largest foreseeable investment by the city in a cultural and educational facility, should reflect and reinforce our collective vision for the city’s future.


We suggested that it is reasonable to wait a few months until the completion of the visioning process before making the library siting decision. It is now clear that the Commission is moving forward with the library project without with the benefit of advice from the Visioning Steering Committee.


Should We Jump Ahead of Visioning?

From our perspective this then requires that we jump ahead of the visioning effort to imagine what it might recommend.  We certainly cannot predict the whole picture, but one would hope and expect that the Visioning Steering Committee and, ultimately, the City Commission will conclude that the attribute that makes Winter Park so unique in Florida is its graceful, busy, pedestrian and transit-friendly downtown. Maintaining the sense of place and the spirit of community of the downtown area should be a pillar of the City’s vision for its future.


Downtown Character Depends on Community Investment

It is an illusion to believe that the economic and social vitality of this special area will take care of itself without continuing attention from the City government.  Florida is littered with downtowns that have, sadly, succumbed to competition from sprawling, automobile-centered commercial development nearby.  Winter Park’s downtown will only retain its character and function as the heart of our community by continuing investment by the City in community events, services, public transportation, and public facilities concentrated in that area.


Environmental Quality Makes WP Sustainable

This brings us to the library which is now proposed to be located between what some city officials call the 17-92 and Denning Avenue “corridors”.  While this area deserves redevelopment, it is a pedestrian unfriendly, traffic-clogged, and architecturally generic competitor to Winter Park’s historic downtown. A decision by the City to move its most important cultural institution from its downtown to this area can only be interpreted as a decision by the City of Winter Park to move away from what makes this a unique community and toward exactly the kind of development patterns that have damaged so much of Florida.  And the fact that the proposed library location takes away precious green space would convey an additional message about the city’s future — that the quality of the environment that makes the city sustainable is unimportant.


Collective Vision of WP in the 21st Century

As we said in our May letter to the City Commission, a decision of this importance should not be made simply from the internal perspective of the library and its advocates, but should take into account the larger framework that is our collective vision for the future of Winter Park in the 21st Century.


Finally, we, and we suspect many others, would likely be supporters of a referendum to pay for a new or expanded library if it were part of a coherent plan to build upon what makes this City such a special place to live.  But we will oppose the expenditure of our tax dollars for construction of a library building that undermines the quality and character of life that residents of Winter Park appreciate and enjoy.

Yes for Winter Park Library


Yes for Winter Park Library

One of the first questions I am asked when I speak to members of our community about our quest for a new building to house the Winter Park Public Library is, “but do you really need a new building?” It is a fair and logical question. It is the crucial first question the Library Task Force set out to study.

The short answer is a resounding YES! But my guess is that you are not reading for the short answer, so allow me to explain.

It is the fully informed judgement of multiple architects, planners, nationally recognized library experts and the nine-member Library Task Force appointed by the Winter Park City Commission that the current library building is not adequate and a new facility is necessary to provide the community with the library materials, services and programs it needs now and in the future.

After 10 months of investigating every aspect of the current library building and researching library trends around the country, we realized that not only has the current library building fallen behind in many ways, but it also lacks the ability to adapt to the technologies and service trends that are right around the corner.

When the Library Task Force presented its first report to the City Commission in December, 2014, it delivered a compelling case that thoroughly documented serious library building deficiencies in the areas of capacity, accessibility, flexibility and technology. The report is packed with data and anecdotes illustrating the problems the library faces and you are encouraged to view it at It is hard to believe that in a community like Winter Park, we have a library where we must remove a children’s book for each we add due to a lack of space. It is hard to believe that we daily turn away tutors looking for quiet spaces to teach children and adults how to read. But both are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the current library building is failing us, and there is no doubt that we need better. Winter Park deserves better.

Throughout this process, I started a list and added to it every time a new deficiency was detected. Eventually it became known as my “not enough” list and it includes: electrical capacity; infrastructure to support current and emerging technologies; parking; space for staff; rooms for programming, tutoring and small group meetings; and accessible shelving for children and seniors. There is not enough of any of those things, and there is not enough flexibility in the current structure to address those failings.

People ask what could possibly be so wrong with the current structure that it cannot be adapted. The truth is that we could do so. It would require that the current structure be completely gutted – taken down to the studs and block. As soon as we started that project, we would have to bring the building into compliance with current building codes. Even if we did not expand a single square inch, we would still be 32 parking spaces short of meeting the number of code-required spaces. We would not have solved any of our space constraint issues, and we would still be ill positioned to meet the needs of future users. Our bathrooms, elevator and stairs don’t meet current code. The best estimate we have for a renovation exceeds $5 million, which doesn’t include the cost of relocating the library for a year during construction. So for more than $5 million dollars, we would have a still-inadequate building that cannot meet current or future needs and that may still require a parking structure. So yes, it’s possible. It just doesn’t make any sense.

As the Task Force moved forward with its work, the overwhelming evidence of the need for a new facility led the Task Force to re-direct its efforts to considering what the capabilities, funding and location of a new facility would be. Those have been interesting and exciting discussions from a diverse group of citizens appointed by the City Commission and the Library Board. After reviewing a dozen locations, we are down to four locations that would create new possibilities for the library and our community. In a few weeks, we will present our findings to the City Commission.

Over the last year, I have personally visited newly constructed libraries in our state and around the country, and I am encouraged to see vibrant new buildings meant to last for generations to come. Two outstanding new libraries are the Ft. Myers City Center Library and the Sarasota County Gulf Gate Library. Both libraries have large, open, flexible rooms with a lot of computers, high-quality centers for children and teens, quiet rooms for small meetings and tutoring, and a lot of power outlets for all the devices that are available to the library visitor today. They have a great deal of open space and non-garage parking. I have also toured the new library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which just won a national award for design and innovation and is becoming a great community center for the City of Cedar Rapids after the 500-year flood the city suffered in 2008. If you were to visit those libraries, you would see starkly what we are missing.

The Task Force is unanimous in its enthusiastic assertion that Winter Park needs and deserves a library that will honor our community’s commitment to education and learning — now and for generations to come. It is an honor to participate in the process that will guide the Commission in making the final decision.

Do we need a new library?

If so, where shall we put it?

Do we need a new library?


Next month, the Library Task Force, which has been in existence since June 2014, will present their findings to the Commission and leave it to the City and its citizens to determine the answer to these questions.The Library Task Force will “sunset” out of existence in what Commissioner Tom McMacken called “the end of the beginning. ”


A Little History

Relocating the library is not a new concept. The current location is the fourth in the library’s history. The original library was founded in 1885 on the porch of the Lamson House at 503 Interlachen. In 1886, it moved to an enclosed building owned by the Winter Park Co. In 1902, it moved again to a new one-room building, which was expanded in the 1930s when the city was persuaded to provide free electricity. At that time, the library went from being more or less a private club to being a true public library. (Indoor plumbing would follow.)

That library outgrew its home and, in 1976, the city acquired the current library site on New England Avenue. After 20 years, in 1995, a third floor was added and floors one and two were remodeled.

Another 20 years has elapsed. Once again, growth and demand for services have exerted pressure on the current library. Last year, the City Commission decided it was time to explore alternatives. They assembled a nine-member Library Task Force, which came together in June 2014 in the service of our city.

Their task:  to make recommendations regarding the need, location, costs and funding strategies for a new or remodeled library facility.

Task Force Goes to Work

The nine are Sam Stark, Gary Barker, Daniel Butts, Bruce Douglas, Jeffry Jontz, Nancy Miles, Joel Roberts, Jan Walker and Chip Weston. Each City Commissioner chose one, and the remaining four were chosen by the Board of Library Trustees. Bruce Douglas resigned from the Task Force in April 2015, leaving eight members.


Individually, the Task Force members span the political spectrum, and most say they came to the Task Force as skeptics, with preconceived notions about whether Winter Park even needs a new library.

As a group, however, they are united in their sincerity, diligence and sense of purpose —  proof that a diverse group of citizens can work together effectively for the greater good of the community. For six months, they have listened to experts, reviewed library trends, examined site plans, toured other libraries, both in Florida and as far afield as Cedar Rapids, IA and Little Rock, AR. They have held 30 public Task Force meetings, hosted five public forums, presented at two Commission workshops and at the December 8, 2014, regular Commission meeting. A full account of their activity can be found at

ISO the Library of the Future

The Task Force has found the current library no longer keeps pace with the needs of the community, either for space or for technology — not surprising if you recall that in 1976, when the library was built, computers still used punch cards.


Technologies have emerged over the past two decades that have had a profound effect on our lifestyle, economy and community. For citizens and businesses alike, the library of the future may be the only affordable source for artificial intelligence and the confluence of maturing technologies and social applications.

The Printed Word is Here to Stay

Then why do we need shelf space when everything is moving to the internet?


In reality, only about 12 percent of all books published have been digitized. People will continue to rely on the printed word – and not just older people. Studies show that between 60 and 75 percent of young people, aged 16 to 24, prefer print books over e-books. Child development experts strongly recommend that print books be used to teach early literacy skills.

Library Fails to Meet City Code

The existing building predates the current City Code. Library Executive Director Shawn Shaffer explains, “If we touch the building,we have to bring it up to code.”


Currently, parking is deficient by 33 spaces. Stack widths are too narrow to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. The current building cannot meet the electrical needs of today’s technology, and because of the way it was constructed, it cannot be rewired.The library’s only elevator is too small to accommodate a gurney with a patient on it, a situation that has required first responders to carry a patient down the stairs in a life-or-death situation.

Dec, 2014: Commission Says,‘Not So Fast!’
On December 8, 2014, the Task Force brought their initial163-page report to the Commission in the reasonable belief that they had fulfilled their mission. They recommended either building a new library on the Post Office site on New York Avenue or demolishing and rebuilding the library in its current location. Rebuilding on the current site, however, was too expensive, and the city had failed to reach an agreement with the U.S. Postal Service to acquire the Post Office site.

The Commission congratulated the Task Force on a job well done and sent them back to the drawing board. After more miles of travel and more hours of meetings, they are now preparing to present their revised recommendations to the Commission June 22.

Will the City Relinquish Two Acres of Parkland to Relocate the Library?

The alternative sites studied by the Library Task Force are all on land now owned by the city. They include the current site on New England Ave., a site adjacent to City Hall, and the Rachel Murrah Civic Center site. Task Force members seem to favor the Civic Center site, but suggest leaving the Civic Center as it is. Instead, they suggest building the new library at the east end of that block in Martin Luther King, Jr., Park (MLK Park), at the corner of Morse and Denning.

They plan to recommend a 50,000-square-foot, two-story building with a wide porch featuring ceiling fans and indoor-outdoor reading spaces. If it’s sited in MLK Park, the porch will overlook a reconfigured lake. There will be glass, natural light and flexible spaces. The walls will move – literally.

Library Site Could Be a Hard Sell
It is not unusual for libraries to be located in municipal parks,but there is opposition to the MLK Park location. Michael Poole, chairman of the Keep Winter Park Beautiful and Sustainable Advisory Board, said at a Public Forum held April 28, “If I were to rate that site on a scale of one to ten, it would be a fifty!” 

In an April 13, 2015, memorandum to Jeffry Jontz and David Torre of the Board of Library Trustees, Poole wrote, “I believe you need to quickly demonstrate the ‘Need.”Poole charged them to, “Explain how each increase in space is needed, will meet an unmet need, and how the required space was determined. CLICK HERE for the text of the entire memorandum.

Comments during the April 28 Forum indicated concern that if MLK Park is recommended as a possible library site, the park would be eliminated. Task Force member Daniel Butts explained that MLK Park includes approximately 27 acres of playing fields, lake and open parkland. The library, he said, would occupy just over two acres, leaving the rest of the park intact.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper also opposes the loss of green space and worries that the building will block pedestrians’ and motorists’ view of the park. She said she was concerned that relocating the library would necessitate selling the current library site in order to pay for new construction, and she does not favor selling any land in the downtown core that now belongs to the city.

Commissioner Tom McMacken said he is looking forward to reading the full report. “This is only the beginning of the process,” said McMacken. “More research and discussion need to happen before we can put this on a ballot,” he said. “The [Board of Library Trustees] has a big job to do, to make sure everyone is fully informed and in agreement. The Commission can put the question on a ballot for people to decide, but the Commission is only a conduit between the Library and the citizens. Ultimately, the citizens must decide.”