Flagler County Library Director Holly Albanese, offering up an unusually determined presentations by a county director, essentially made County Commissioners an offer they couldn’t refuse this afternoon.
Albanese presented the conceptual renderings of a south side library the county has been talking about in circles for eight years. She described a building that would meet several needs in the county, well beyond those of the library. She outlined the $16 million cost. She laid out half a dozen funding options that left commissioners little room for contradictions. And she asked for direction on starting the process that would result in a ribbon-cutting at the new library on Commerce Parkway in Bunnell in the summer or fall of 2024.
“We’ve been talking about it for a number of years,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said. “And I think it’s either now we go forward, or or we give up the whole deal. I mean, it’s one way or the other.”
Commissioners agreed to go forward.
“We’ve come this far, and there’s some additional revenue sources that can be taken advantage of,” Commissioner Andy Dance said. “You have to think you have to move forward.” And Dance had only moments before been the only commissioner to speak some reservations–not about the project itself, but about its place in the context of other county projects that may need to draw on whatever available funding there may be for the library.
Dance, always the more deliberate of the commissioners, had a list of pros and cons: good location, good flexibility in the use of the building, excellent location with other government services and staff nearby. But he was also concerned about timing. The county is preparing to start its goal-setting. “I would love to be able to have had the time to go through the whole strategic planning process,” he said. “We have big needs. One of my priorities as is the commission’s is the fire station, so we’ve got other construction projects that are going to be competing for the same funds. I would like to know how all of that ties together so that we’re not depleting funds that are going to push those other projects farther out. So that’s a conversation that I want to have.”
He had other concerns. One is a sidewalk that stops just past at the edge of Palm Coast on State Road 100, in front of GEA Auto, leaving no sidewalk and bike-safe access to Commerce Parkway for future pedestrians making their way to the library. Another is the county’s reserves, which he doesn’t want depleted. But none of what he said was an outright objection to going ahead with the plan, as he made clear.
At least in contrast with commission promises year after year, today’s decision was a surprise. “I’ve been on the board of the library trustees for 13 years now and been its chair for about the last 11 or 12,” Jim Ulsamer, who has from time to time been among the most acerbic advocates for a better funded library system, told the commissioners. He may have been prepared to deliver a different kind of speech, now happily shelved. “I just want to thank you for your consideration, and I’m excited to see that this looks like it’s going to happen and it’s going to go forward. It’d be a great, great benefit to the community. Thank you.”
Bunnell’s branch library near the corner of State Road 100 and U.S. 1 closed last September and moved to a storefront at Marvin’s Garden in Palm Coast, losing more than half its floor space (from 3,100 square feet to 1,100 square feet). It did so to make room for an SMA Healthcare facility designed to address lacking mental health and substance use issues in Flagler.
Albanese’s methodical, air-tight presentation had cleared the way. She had first presented the plan to the trustees earlier this month (see: “Flagler County Has Been Promising a South Side Library Since 2014. Commission Will Promise Again Next Week.”) Today’s presentation had the benefit of a more detailed set of plans from the architect–Rhodes & Brito–hired in 2018 with the library’s passport revenue to draw up a plan. (The library is the county’s one location where anyone, local or not, can get a new passport or renew old ones. The library is on pace to generate about $100,000 from that revenue source this year, and generally generates $120,000 a year.)
The architect designed a 32,000 square-foot joint use facility to be raised on the parcel opposite the Sheriff’s Operations Center, housing the south side library, the county’s human and health services division, and a conference center. The library portion would be “the library of the future,” Albanese said. “Now, I say that because when I wrote the building program six years ago initially, it probably was the library the future. Today it’s a library that exists out there. There are many libraries that have innovation labs today, podcasting, recording rooms, green screens, they have 3d printers,” plus virtual reality simulators, as in orange County. “So what we’re building is a library of the future but it’s really the library of today.”
The library will have 24 computer stations, study rooms, an outdoor theater, youth, teen and adult collections, and a large innovation lab and multi-function room. Its meeting room will be able to accommodate from 250 to 325 people, and could be subdivided. The building will serve as a disaster-recovery facility and a shelter, and potentially as an additional voting precinct, an inoculation site or for other public health uses, and so on.
Construction itself would cost $8.1 million. Site work is expected to cost over $3 million because of the large amount of fill needed there. Some of that work could be done in-house. Other costs round out the bottom line to $16 million.
The Albanese came to her funding sources: the county’s sales tax supplement revenue, which had been promised to a second library in 2014, when commissioners held a similar discussion, did not figure on Albanese’s list. She knows the money is spoken for, chiefly because of the sheriff’s operations center and the jail. But passport revenue alone could provide $400,000. The American Rescue Plan’s Flagler share could make $10 million available. She checked: it may be used for libraries. The county is in line for a $500,000 state aid grant to the library. The recently enacted federal infrastructure bill could make more dollars available. Since the Health and Human Services division will occupy 4,000 square feet, it could qualify for a federal grant of its own.
The sale of the property behind the Palm Coast branch of the library could generate substantial dollars. The library sits on 19 acres there. The rest of the acreage at one point was to be the location for a sheriff’s operations center until that site shifted back to Bunnell. The library uses only four acres, leaving 15 to the market. Albanese did not have a value on those acres. The county property appraiser lists the entire site at $5.2 million, though that’s always an underestimate of its market value. In 2020, AdventHealth paid $5 million to buy 10 acres almost across the street from the Palm Coast library, where AdventHealth is now building a hospital. Values have appreciated significantly since then.
Finally, Albanese approached the final ask in her presentation as if she were a constitutional officer requesting how, not whether, to go forward with an essential need.
“We would like to get a consensus to move forward today,” she said. “If we do, we would prepare the RFP and contract for the construction manager at risk and also a contract to complete the design process for the architects. We would award the contract in April hopefully.”
The commissioners’ discussion was brief. Albanese had her consensus to go ahead. And despite the rather gaping mystery regarding which funds, exactly, will be used to build the library, Flagler County’s south side should–absent a cynical election-year pledge by commissioners that may vanish after the August primary–have a library of its own in less than two years.