Drawing on federal funds channeled through Florida–and on the strength of a grant application by Holly Albanese, the county’s library director and chief of special projects–Flagler County today was awarded a $4 million grant for its planned $16 million south-branch library in Bunnell, known as the “Nexus Center.” It is a major win for the county, all but securing the necessary funding for the library, which has been a dream of the library Board of Trustees for a decade.
The county this year budgeted $9.6 million for the project. The library had set aside $1 million for it in revenue generated from its passport program. It had also secured a $500,000 state grant last year, bringing the total amount secured for the new library to just over $15 million. The county is still waiting to hear about a hazard mitigation grant, applied for on the basis of the new library eventually serving as a shelter during emergencies. It is possible that the project could start construction this summer, Albanese said this afternoon.
Albanese has been working on developing a South Branch library since 2014. So her reaction was not a surprise when she got an email from County Administrator Heidi Petito, letting her know about the grant early this afternoon. “I gotta tell you, it was very emotional for me. I was literally literally crying. It’s very emotional” she said. She was just as quick to inform her Board of Trustees. “Hard work truly pays off. I can’t even begin to express how happy I am,” she wrote.
Albanese had learned about the grant opportunity last June rom the state librarian, who’d emailed all county libraries with the information. She was immediately confident that this would serve Flagler County’s needs, and fit the grant’s requirements. “Nobody knows except for me really how hard I worked on researching and writing this particular grant,” Albanese said in an interview. “If anybody saw the requirements of this grant, it was what I would say a beast of a grant. I’ve never written one as complex and convoluted as this one was, and the requirements and the statistics and the information that had to be gathered, and the letters of support. There was just so much detail that was needed in this grant.” Albanese wasn’t sure that the project could go forward without that $4 million. So when she learned of it, there were some tears, and there was the near-certainty that the project would, in fact, be a go.
One of the trustees responded to the announcement with a string of headlines that reflect the respect and affection Albanese has earned from the board over the years: “Congratulations, Superstar Holly!” “Library Director worth her weight in gold.” “She’s bringing home the bacon, our Amazing Holly.” “Holly tells the Office of Broadband ‘show me the money,’ and they did.” It is that much more remarkable that, unlike every other government in Flagler County, Albanese secured two major grants plus passport revenue through her own devices, rather than by relying on that other bringer of bacon in the last two years–Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican and current Speaker of the house, who’s leveraged his position to Flagler County’s benefit almost as lucratively as the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd used to for West Virginia. So it was an understatement when the trustee concluded the string of imagined headlines with these words: “Thanks so much for all you do for our library system, Holly.”
Though Gov. Ron DeSantis sought inaccurately to take credit for it (“Governor Ron DeSantis Delivers $223 Million to Expand Rural Broadband Access,” went his office’s headline on a release) the $4 million grant is part of the federally funded Multipurpose Community Facilities Program, itself part of the $223 million broadband initiative, also entirely federally funded under a Biden administration program. DeSantis in his release explicitly criticized the program for its strictures on diversity even as he claimed credit for the money.
Of the $223 million, $86 million was earmarked for community facilities, with awards limited to a maximum of $4 million. Key in Flagler County’s application was a letter of support from Bunnell government, pressing for the south branch library and its impact on local users. In 2014, when the library Board of Trustees first advocated for the branch, it told the County Commission at the time that it would serve up to 20,000 users.
The original design was for a 32,000 square-foot joint use facility that would go up on Commerce Parkway, opposite the relatively new Sheriff’s Operations Center. It was to be a joint facility with the county’s human and health services division, and include a conference center. It still will have all those elements, but the project has been scaled down to about 22,000 square feet.
Commerce Parkway is about to be dug through from State Road 100 to U.S. 1, a two-lane road looping around the city and opening that side of Bunnell to commercial and residential development. The library will be positioned to capture that new activity. (See: “20 Years Later, 1.7-Mile, $14.5 Million Commerce Parkway from SR100 Is a Go. Just Don’t Call It a ‘Bypass’ Anymore.”) Bunnell City Hall will also be going up almost at the same time as the library, a short walk away, at the north end of Commerce Parkway. (See: “Bunnell Lands a Nearly-All Flagler Team to Build Its City Hall and Police Station.”)
The county has been trying to sell some of the acreage next to the main branch library on Palm Coast Parkway. But that land has a reverter clause–reverting back to ITT, which, however, no longer exists. It is still complicating selling the land, which in turn would have to still be used for a public purpose. That’s no longer a deciding factor in the south branch library’s fate, which turns to more technical steps as it moves toward a construction date.
“We are in good shape,” Albanese said.