“We’re 100 percent prepared to build,” Commissioner Larry Kiker said to the Bonita City Council at its latest meeting. “A beautiful new library right here in your community has already been funded. We’re ready to rock-and-roll as soon as you tell us where you want it.”
Where the city wants it is on the old Liberty Church property the city bought for $1 million two years ago. It’s in the Old 41 downtown area the city wants to re-develop and City Manager Carl Schwing said it would be a perfect draw to help bring more people into the area.
The site is only two acres, however, and a cursory look puts the parking requirement at 75 spaces. Schwing said there’s a meeting between the two parties, with library experts and architects, to see if they can make the new library work on the site. “The question is not if we get it or even when,” he said. “The issue is really one of location.”
The church property is actually a block off Old 41 on Felts Avenue. Schwing said the city prefers that site to the one where the existing 12,000 square foot, 24-year old county library is on Pine Avenue next to Bonita Middle School. Library consultants describe it as completely inadequate for both the population and for new library technology. “There are logistical challenges, but we think long-term (the church property) is absolutely the best place,” he said.
It took city residents years to convince the county a new library was needed, and some even toyed with the idea of an independent tax district to build and run it. Research showed Bonita residents had paid almost $47 million in county library taxes since the year 2000, with only around $18 million in services delivered.
Two acres is a tight fit for a 25,000 square foot library, Schwing admitted. No space will be needed for drainage or water retention, however, because the city has instituted a master plan for the entire downtown area. He said the number of parking spaces that will really be needed is also to be determined.
The county is sensitive to the parking issue. When the new downtown Fort Myers library was opened late in 2013 patrons complained of a lack of parking and of long walks from nearby parking lots. That library was designed for the urbanized downtown area, with outdoor use areas that stressed park-like features over expansive parking. Commissioners heard lots of complaints and had to strike deals with nearby churches to share parking.
“We know they’re sensitive. We think we can get all the required parking,” Schwing said. “At a very high level if you ask community development about 25,000 square feet they say 75 spaces. But is that the right amount for that particular library at that particular location?”
That may be the answer that decides the new library location. Schwing said the city is glad to have the county ready to go. “We’re happy to have the county support,” he said. “We’re hopeful to get to ‘yes’ downtown. I think the county needs to be convinced it will work. We’d have to be convinced it won’t.”