It’s not a potential donation anymore. An anonymous donor who’s pledged $1 million for the expansion of the main branch of the Flagler County Public Library has donated the first $100,000 installment to the Friends of the Library as a good-will gesture, with more payments to be spread over time.
But Library Director Holly Albanese is losing hope that any new library construction will begin before 2018.
The reason: The Flagler County Commission and its administration, which have been discussing expanding library infrastructure—with an expansion at the main library and an entirely new branch—for going on three years now, have yet to hold a workshop on the matter, let alone choose a site from a list of five proposed locations, or develop a design for the new building. There’s money set aside for the design, though not for the construction. But to develop the design, the county must have as site first. The delay makes applying for a state construction grant this year all but impossible.
After almost a decade’s hiatus following the housing crash, state government has resumed providing $500,000 construction grants to counties for libraries. It’s a competitive process. Nothing says that Flagler County would be chosen. But to qualify, the state demands that the project include specifics such as a precise site. The state also requires a resolution from the county commission showing a commitment to the new facility. The commission can’t draft that resolution in a void. The deadline for 2016 grants, which would enable construction to begin in 2017, is this coming April 1.
“Working day and night it’s going to take me a minimum of two weeks to write this grant,” Albanese told the library board of trustees last week. She does not see that happening, with no word yet from the commission.
“Unless we get that resolution and I’m able to submit that application by April 1 this year,” Albanese said, “I don’t see any way we could start construction before 2018. Obviously, I’d love to start construction in 2017. We need it desperately.”
It’s been a priority of the library board, but not of the county commission.
A library board priority, but not a county commission priority.
The generosity of the anonymous donor is complicating matters somewhat, as are the library’s broader construction plans. Two construction projects are planned, not one. One project would be a 12,000 square foot addition to the existing main branch at Palm Coast Parkway and Belle Terre Parkway. That’s the expansion the anonymous donor wants the $1 million spent on. The expansion alone is expected to cost $2 million.
The second project would be a new, stand-alone library that would, in effect, become the new library administrative headquarters as well, replacing the existing man branch in that regard. By turning it into an administrative center as well, Albanese hopes to increase its chances of getting a state grant. That’s the facility the county commission has yet to find a site for, though five locations are being considered, each with some advantages and drawbacks, almost all along the State Road 100 corridor. That 22,000 square foot project is projected to cost $4 million, drawn from a combination of funds. Those funds would presumably include the $500,000 state grant, some money raised by the library (but not the $1 million from the anonymous donor), and mostly revenue from the sales tax supplement. Most of that revenue for now has been spoken for as the county built the new sheriff’s administrative headquarters and the new county jail.
The Bunnell branch would close when the new branch would open, so the county would still have just two county public libraries. (Flagler Beach has its own.)
Still, all of that is speculative as long as the county commission does not set a course. The library director and County Administrator Craig Coffey have been working on a presentation for the commission for months. That presentation has yet to be scheduled.
Meanwhile, the $1 million donation has itself raised some issues the county administration is working through, such as whether the donor can remain anonymous even though the money is going to a public use, and if so, how. The current set up has the donation going to the Friends of the Library, a n on-profit affiliate of the library that could theoretically keep its donor anonymous. Asked about the wisdom of keeping a donor anonymous, library board members said they had no issue with the arrangement as long as the identity of the donor was known to someone in the organization.
Alan Peterson, one of the library board members and the go-between with the donor, said that such an anonymous donation is different from one that would have ideological strings attached. Since the donor is only requesting that the money be spent on construction–rather than, say, on a curriculum or a class of books—the anonymity should not be an issue. The county attorney, Albanese said, is working through those questions.