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A Director’s Impassioned Plea for “Have-Nots” Wins Out: New Library Would Rise in Bunnell, Not Palm Coast

| May 16, 2016

flagler public library bunnell

Library Director Holly Albanese had strong disagreements with County Administrator Craig Coffey over the location of a proposed new library anywhere but in Bunnell. Both made their pitches for the new branch this afternoon during a county commission workshop. (c FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey and Library Director Holly Albanese don’t agree on where a new public library building should go up. Coffey favors a site at the county airport. Albanese favors one in Bunnell, where the existing branch library would close when the new building goes up.

It’s rare that a county administration director so publicly and adamantly disagrees with her boss. But independent streaks among librarians is not unusual: it’s what makes them librarians.

“I’m going to sit here and fight for the city of Bunnell and their people,” Albanese said, with Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson and City Manager Dan Davis sitting right behind a group of Friends of the Library this afternoon during a county commission workshop on the future of the library. “This is something that they’ve had from 2004, and essentially what you’re doing is taking from the haves and giving to the haves, again,” she said, before making a comparison to the Carver Gyn: the county commission sought to close the South Bunnell gym in 2010 until an outcry forced it to back-track. As a reult, “you made it better,” Albanese said.

“I’m not looking at it as Bunnell or Palm Coast,” Coffey said in defense of his proposal, but as “the best location, as a planner.” Growth-wise, he said, the location at the aiport would serve the most people, with the county’s population center edging well away from Bunnell.

The Library Board of Trustees split 3-3 between the two sites, reflecting the split in the administration. But Board Chairman Jim Ulsamer downplayed the significance of the vote, which he referred to as a straw poll rather than the result of deep analysis. And he described the proposed library as a much larger facility with many more services than what’s offered at the Bunnell branch currently.

But for all site the drama of the last few months, when it came time for commissioners to break the tie, there really was no disagreements: they all favored the Bunnell site, with the exception of Charlie Ericksen: he didn’t object to the Bunnell site, but he did not weigh on between one site or the other. (Commissioner Frank Meeker prefaced his support for the Bunnell site first by rebuking Albanese for framing the issue in what he described as “class warfare” terms–a mischaracterization of Albanese’s reference to Bunnell as a chronically underserved area of the county when it comes to countywide services. A member of the board of trustees later came to her defense over the have-and-have-nots description, though he also stressed the importance of spending taxpayers properly first: “I take umbrage to the concept that we’re not trying to make a decision for 105,000 people, as opposed to a class warfare thing between Bunnell and Palm Coast,” he said.)

Before you get too excited, there is no plan to build a new library, library branch, library annex or library administrative building any time soon, anywhere. Much as the Flagler County Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Library would like to see that happen soon, the county doesn’t have the money just yet. “We’re way down the road that we haven;t even started the car yet,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said.

It’s all at the planning stage. But securing a site now and designing the new library now would favor the county financially, Coffey said, even if those plans “sat on the shelf five or 10 years.”

In the end, Coffey himself was not as wedded to the airport site as Albanese was to the Bunnell site. “We’ve got two good sites and there’s potentially more,” he said, but either one of those sites would work if expansion plans would go ahead.

Davis and Robinson, along with others in the audience, spoke favorably of the Bunnell site for more reasons than just where population centers may be. “It seems to me that the airport would be a mecca for other businesses to come in,” Robinson said.

The site closer to Bunnell is on Commerce Parkway, which starts at the corner with State Road 100, where the Wendy’s restaurant opened five years ago, and leads to the First Baptist Church of Bunnell, then on to the south end of the county government complex. Commerce Parkway is also the future Bunnell Bypass that will run to U.S. 1. It’s a 10-acre site, where acquisition of the site, design and construction totals $5.5 million.

Initial construction would result in a building of about 16,000 to 20,000 square feet with 100 parking space, with space enough for a library double that size in the future.

There is some money for a new library. “We’re going to get that $500,000 grant from the state, I guarantee you that,” Albanese said of available dollars, and between that and rising passport revenue, there’s $1 million ready to spend. But right now there’s money enough only to acquire land and design buildings, not to build them.

“I believe that originally the whole concept of building this facility was to relocate and expand the current Bunnell facility, that was always my position on it,” Albanese said. “I was never looking to take it outside the city of Bunnell. I think this will hurt the city of Bunnell and its people,” if the library is built elsewhere.

The site location was not the only issue the commission had to consider Monday. There’s also the matter of a $1 million anonymous donation to the library. (The donor is pledging the donation over five years.) That donation is strung up in conditions, among them the insistence that the money be spent on expanding the current location at Palm Coast Parkway, and that the expansion be carried out concurrent to the building of the new site, or before the new site is built. The library expansion must also include new rooms. The money would be channeled through the Friends of the Library.

Those conditions may be a step too far for the county commission to contend with at this point, since the county would have to have construction plans in place before it can figure out whether and how to accommodate the donor’s conditions.

“Somebody is going to have to tell me where the money is coming from” for the acquisition of land and the construction of those projects, Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said. If dollars are available, he’s all for a library expansion. He aded that he’d prefer holding off on the donor’s money until the county knows it has its own money to build.

As for the certainty that the donor could make good on the pledge, Alan Peterson, a member of the board of trustees who’s been the go-between with the donor, said today that he’s seen a bank statement certifying that the money is real.

Barbara Revels, who chairs the commission, said the donation was welcome, and “something could be structured and worked out,” but that those details have yet to be worked out. Meeker agreed. But McLaughlin didn’t, and commissioners Charlie Ericksen and George Hanns did not weigh in.

And there was a third matter: To apply for that $500,000 construction grant from the state, Albanese needed a resolution from the county pledging support for its expansion plans. “If you do not want to go forward, don’t make me spin my wheels,” Albanese said. That issue was not resolved, nor were questions about the donation. The issues will be back on a workshop agenda on June 6.

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16 Responses for “A Director’s Impassioned Plea for “Have-Nots” Wins Out: New Library Would Rise in Bunnell, Not Palm Coast”

  1. YankeeExPat says:

    Good for You Director Albanese, tell Craig Coffey to Stick It!

  2. Geezer says:

    Good for the Bunnellians!
    I hope to see it one day when I visit Flagler one day.

  3. PJ says:

    Great Idea!

  4. Realist says:

    Who is going to let their kids go into Bunnell to go to the library? Put is where the bulk of the population is and will patronize.

  5. Dave says:

    Realist; your spot on with your comment.

  6. tulip says:

    To REALIST This would be a second library. The Palm Coast one remains where it is, but another one would be built in one of the locations mentioned in the article, which would make it much more convenient for people who live in that part of Flagler county and the high school to have easier access to one.

    We have a great library that provides many programs and services to adults, high school kids and children and, by having a branch, the library will be able to provide these services to people who can’t get to, or don’t want to go the distance to the Palm Coast . Also the population has drastically increased and is still growing, so the extra space will be welcome and convenient.

  7. PERCY'S MOTHER says:

    I see nothing wrong with the present location of the main public library on the corner of Palm Coast Parkway and Belle Terre.

    How about expanding that building upwards . . . as in adding a second story? Has anyone thought of that? That would leave the present library in its current centrally located spot.

  8. Dave says:

    Geezer you must not be a resident in Flagler County

  9. Yellowstone says:

    You’d think two ‘normal’ people could sit together and figure out this conundrum.
    You take the existing subscriber base, plot the base with pins representing the card holders on a large county map, look for available land that is central to most, then propose a new (or refurbish) a building.
    Obviously there is more at play here: ‘Someone’ has to be able to make a lot of money in this deal!

  10. Ben Hogarth says:

    Realist, the irony here is that the population that needs library services the most are the underprivileged or poor. I use the term “underprivelaged” because being American alone is a privilege relative to the rest of the world. However, back to the point – the Bunnell population while a minority when compared to the amount of people in Palm Coast, should not be completely dismissed. I can understand another new library being placed away from their city limits if the current branch there were to also remain open, but this probably wouldn’t be the case as staffing is expensive.

    I also appreciate the fact that folks at the meeting cleared up the mischaracterization of “underserved population” – as this term refers to a proportionate funding relative to other counties of similar size and demographic and NOT class warfare. Flagler County would essentially be in the “red” if we were playing SimCity… Half of the funding it needs to parallel other counties. If anything Commissioner Meeker, a political scientist could argue that THAT IS an indicator of current class warfare – ironically enough. So I would certainly tread lightly when bringing that subject to light… less county officials be accused of failing to provide basic service levels to a less than wealthy population.

    I also had to laugh at the notion that a library from a planning perspective would best fit at the airport. While I understand that from a population dispersal viewpoint (planning), the airport may be better located to accommodate those folks in the future, something about quiet reading/study time and jet engines just doesn’t mix well in my mind. Maybe I’m just being provocative at this point, but logic always seemed to me like the best place to start off any great idea…

    The “administrative campus” realistically would be the best spot currently, with all logistical and political concerns accounted for. And to be honest, the 3-4 mile difference would not really hurt the Palm Coast population to commute that direction versus the other… But it WOULD hurt Bunnell.. And that’s the point really. That’s why it needs to stay in Bunnell.

  11. Tired of it says:

    Just what Bunnell needs is another non tax paying building. How about encouraging some commercial growth that will help support the economy in Bunnell instead.

  12. Robjr says:

    It would appear that Holly Albanese hit a nerve on ole Frank Meeker.

  13. Geezer says:

    Dave:

    I used to be a Palm Coaster, now I’m in New England.
    Bunnell was a quaint place–a bit of old Florida, except
    for the rough area behind the old courthouse.

    I still have pictures of the water tower.

    I used to get fish sandwiches at the Bantam Chef.
    I used to call it the “Batman Chef.”

    You’re correct, Dave.

  14. Anonymous says:

    IMO a new branch somewhere along SR100 between I95 and US1 makes sense.

  15. Country Rock Dog says:

    Bunnell already has an underutilized library, put the new library in Palm Coast where it will be well appreciated & patronized, thank you.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The Bunnell Library is underutilized because the hours make it impossible to use for much of the population. I live to the west and work right up the road off 100, and I will never be able to use the Bunnell Library, even with the expanded hours (with the exception of a quick stop during lunch or so, which I am looking forward to doing). If you work a normal 8 am to 5 pm job, how can you use a library that is open 9 am 5 pm only on three week days? I have been to the Flagler County Library several times, and it is a 26 minute drive from my house. I have been to the Bunnell Library zero times, and it is only 16 minutes from my house.

    A library closer to Bunnell would be accessible to the southern side of the county, including Palm Coast residents. It would bring a service to Bunnell, to the western rural residents who have to traverse “out to town” often anyway, and to a growing population in southern Palm Coast. It could be a win for a lot of folks in the county.

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