When the Flagler County Public Library celebrates its 16th birthday Friday, it will have a few things to celebrate and a few to grumble about.
On the celebratory side, the library is at the receiving end of two substantial financial donations: One is a $7,000 cash donation from one of its board members, Alan Peterson—the former county commissioner—to close a gap created a by a decline of equal size in a state grant.
The other is a potential $1 million donation from an anonymous donor who is communicating with the library board through Peterson. That donation, however, is conditional on the library spending the money as the donor prefers. The donor is requesting that the amount be spent on the planned expansion of the main library branch at Belle Terre Parkway and Palm Coast Parkway, and that the spending take place roughly at the same time as the county’s planned construction of a second branch library, or before that construction. The donor is placing those conditions on the money to ensure that the Belle Terre location does not get neglected.
“That restriction is pretty solid, in other words it makes sense to the donor to do them both at the same time,” Peterson said.
The donations are great news for the library. “It brings up a whole lot of possibilities for this library system,” Holly Albanese, the library director, said. But the $1 million pledge is not without wrinkles. “The question is, is that requirement reasonable or not,” Albanese said of the pledge’s strings. “Part of that requirement is pretty fixed in the donor’s mind as a need, and therefore if the county chooses not to want that, then the donation would not be made.”
The library board and the county commission more than two years ago agreed to the need for an expansion and the addition of a separate branch, which could itself become the library’s administrative offices as well. But there’s been little movement in that direction in two years even though the library has set aside $200,000 to match $200,000 from the county’s general revenue to pay for a design of the new branch. (The library is able to pitch in because of its greatly successful passport-issuing operation.) The money has been rolling over year after year, untouched. That’s caused some grumbles from the library board, which has been eager to move forward with expansion plans.
Two years ago Albanese took county commissioners and members of the Friends of the Library board on a tour of the library on Palm Coast Parkway to press the need for expansion. There was little disagreement from commissioners that such an expansion is needed. But there was little urgency to go forward, at least on commissioners’ part. The county at the time was spending its capital revenue (from the half-cent sales tax that would also pay for much of the library expansion) on the expansion of the county jail and the construction of a new administrative headquarters for the sheriff.
State government used to make construction grants available to counties’ libraries until the housing crash in 2007. In 2014, the state started providing grants again, in modest amounts. This year’s grant-application deadline is April 1. Albanese intends to meet that deadline. “My problem is I can’t apply without a resolution from the county commission saying they’ll approve and go forward with the funding,” Albanese said. “If I don’t have that resolution, I can’t apply.”
Some talk but no county action yet on a planned library expansion.
The state will award its grants based on a point system. The more points an application tallies, the greater the chance that will get a grant. To score points, a county must show that its project fulfills significant needs, with multi-purpose buildings scoring more points than single-purpose buildings. For example, if a library doubles up as an administrative office for its system, that adds points. That’s why Albanese is proposing to move the administration to the proposed new building. If the library can also be used as an emergency shelter, that adds points. That, too, is part of the plan. Albanese is considering other ideas, too. “I’m all about the concept of a joint use facility,” she said.
The preliminary vision for that facility would be 22,000 square feet with a projected cost of $4 million, Albanese said. The expansion at the existing library on Palm Coast Parkway would be for about 12,000 square feet at a cost of $2 million. (The library’s annual operating budget is $1.1 million, proportionately one of the lowest budgets in the state, when spending is compared to the size of the population.)
Five locations are being considered for a new branch, with State Road 100 as a magnet, because that’s where a new branch would address needs best. The possible locations include a city parcel on Bulldog Drive, a site on Commerce Parkway in Bunnell (behind the government services complex), though it has no visibility from State Road 100, a site sandwiched between the county airport and State Road 100, a site east of I-95, on the south side of State Road 100, going toward Flagler Beach (on county owned land, though that parcel is considered a bit out of the way and, because it’s in a storm surge area, would not be eligible as an emergency shelter), and a site on the north side of State Road 100, across from the Government Services Building.
Commissioners are expected to hear a presentation on these options later this month. Meanwhile, Peterson is acting as the go-between to clarify the intentions behind the $1 million proposed donation. Peterson said the donor is preferring to remain anonymous in case things don’t go as planned and the offer is withdrawn: the donor isn’t keen on a public backlash, or on having his or her net worth exposed. But anonymity in government appropriations, and with public record laws, can only go so far.
“I would love to have direct contact myself with the donor if no for no other reason than to thank them personally,” Albanese said, “because it is very generous to say the least, and I would be willing to keep their identity anonymous if that’s what they wish, but at the very least we would need something in writing.”
As for his own $7,000 donation, Peterson said he made it without expectations of public recognition—and indeed, aside from this notice, he has not received any, though lesser donors to other causes are usually eager to parade themselves before cameras and in press releases. (The most recognition Peterson’s donation got was sin the library board’s minutes.) The money, donated through the Friends of the Library, will be used to keep the library’s materials budget (for books and such) equal to last year’s.