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Library ready for new chapter in its history

A large expansion will bring more children's books, more computers and more space.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

LUTZ -- With an eye toward the littlest patrons, Hillsborough County officials are unveiling plans to enlarge the Lutz Branch Library by 70 percent.

Half the additional space will be filled with books and computer stations for children.

"Just think what we can do with that children's section," gushed Helen Swisshelm, president of the newly formed Friends of the Lutz Library.

Mrs. Swisshelm's group, concerned about the tiny children's section, asked in its first meeting to hear from children's librarian Beth Dolson. Another meeting, at 7 p.m. Monday, will be devoted to architectural plans for the larger library. The public is welcome.

The $1.1-million expansion, which is to begin in a year, will transform the entire public area of the library. The number of computers will at least double, and perhaps triple. A computer lab will be added.

Carpet, furniture and shelves will be replaced.

"That old green and orange '70s stuff, it'll be gone," said Dolson.

More importantly, the library's collection will mushroom. Currently, old books must be withdrawn to make room for new books that arrive, Dolson said.

"People are asking, "Are you going to get more audio books? Are you going to get more books on tape?"' she said.

The expansion will change the library enough that a new hub, a combined reference and circulation desk in a square island, will be built where the current library's southern wall is.

"They wanted a desk with a clear view of the ... book areas," said Swati Bose, manager of Hillsborough County's architectural services section, which has supervised a consultant's design of the plans.

East of the new desk, the library will have a new main entrance with a wheelchair ramp. The current entrance will converted to an emergency-only exit, but it will be used for functions in the library's meeting room when the rest of the building is closed, said Suzy George, facilities coordinator for the county's library system.

Restrooms will be expanded to comply with disabled-access laws that took effect since the current library opened in 1970.

Bose said the work is to begin a year from now and be completed by October 2004.

In the next year, she, George and their colleagues must decide how the construction will affect the library's operations. Their decisions may influence bid specifications, Bose said.

George said some library renovations have forced temporary closings in which patrons were referred to the nearest alternate branch. But in Ruskin, neighboring buildings were used while that branch was under construction, she said.

Bose said the Lutz work probably could be done in phases without any significant closing time, but that would slow the overall construction project.

"It's always a bit of a nuisance to have construction going on next to an operating building," Bose said. "But, they say, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."

-- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or

To learn more

Expansion plans for the Lutz Branch Library are to be explained at 7 p.m. Monday at the Library, 101 Lutz-Lake Fern Road, off U.S. 41.

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