A Director’s Impassioned Plea for “Have-Nots” Wins Out: New Library Would Rise in Bunnell, Not Palm Coast
FlaglerLive | May 16, 2016
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.