Editor’s note: Jeffry Jontz, President of the Winter Park Public Library Association, Inc., has represented the Library Trustees on the Library Task Force, which has been studying the future of the Winter Park Public Library (WPPL) for the past year. The Task Force is preparing to make their recommendations to the City Commission next month. At that time, they will have fulfilled their mission and the Task Force will cease to exist. We are grateful to Mr. Jontz for sharing his thoughts — the product of a year of exploration and careful deliberation.
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 www.wppl.org/FutureWPPL. 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.
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