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Bush's okay gets library plan rolling

State money for a Seminole-SPJC library survives the governor's budget review. Other local projects were not so lucky.

By WILMA NORTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


SEMINOLE -- Money for a new library to be built by the city of Seminole and St. Petersburg Junior College has survived Gov. Jeb Bush's review.

The final piece of the deal, a $3-million appropriation in the state budget to Seminole for the library, will come from the state Public Education Capital Outlay fund, which consists of money raised from utility taxes to pay for school construction. Seminole also got grants of $400,000 for the library.

SPJC will match the $3.4-million with money it already has received from the state for construction projects. The library is expected to open on 113th Street, on the junior college campus, in 2003.

"That's good news," said Susan Reiter, head of facilities planning and institutional services for SPJC. "It is now and has been thought of as a good community joint-use project, and we were hopeful (Gov. Bush) would see it as we did."

Reiter said officials at SPJC thought the project met the governor's criteria for funding. "We felt as comfortable as you can feel until he takes a look at things," she said.

Other local projects were not as lucky as the library. The governor vetoed $350,000 requested to expand community health centers in Clearwater, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg and a $426,000 request that would have been used to finish building the Largo Adult Day Services Center on 131st Street.

The fate of a state program to bolster cities' efforts to retain their Major League spring training baseball teams by upgrading facilities was undecided. That measure is in a separate bill. The governor has until June 6 to render a decision.

Fredric Buchholtz, president and chief executive officer of Neighborly Senior Services, said his organization will either have to take out a mortgage or rely heavily on community donations to help pay for the adult center in Largo. He said the center's opening, scheduled for early fall, will not be delayed.

"It's just such a solid project. It boggles the mind how it was not approved," Buchholtz said Tuesday afternoon. "It's not like we're scratching our heads saying, "Gee, we never considered the possibility of this happening.' But we counted on the state seeing the essential nature of this program. I hope the community will see we've made this commitment . . . on behalf of the community."

The governor did support a number of community efforts in Pinellas County, including a new library for the North Greenwood area of Clearwater, renovations to the Anclote Key lighthouse just west of Tarpon Springs and park upgrades in Oldsmar, Dunedin, Safety Harbor and near Tarpon Springs.

The Seminole library deal has been a long time coming.

The college and the city started talking about a joint library four or five years ago. The city held public hearings and committed to the project in 1998 with the caveat that it could not cost Seminole's taxpayers any money.

"I have to say this is going to be a benefit for our immediate community and all of Pinellas County," Mayor Dottie Reeder said. "The fact that we've got the money actually determined the fate of this project."

If the money hadn't come through, she said, taxpayers would have ended up paying more.

Seminole would have begun planning to expand its library on 113th Street, and SPJC would have had to build its own facility across the street.

"That would have been a duplication of tax money," she said.

The city and the college reached an agreement last month on operating the library. It will be open at least 10 hours a week more than the current Seminole library, including Sunday afternoons, and will serve the public and SPJC students.

Seminole will contribute its library collection and furnishings, valued at about $1-million. It also will provide the staff for the new library. The college will pay all the maintenance costs and provide the technology, including computer labs that would be available to the public.

The library also will have meeting rooms, classrooms, a gallery, and offices and sales space for the Friends of the Library, a group that raises money for the library.

Seminole will continue to buy materials for the library, as will the college. If the college and the city ever decided to sever the 20-year agreement, Seminole would leave with everything it brought in, including money to build a replacement library.

With the infusion of state funds, the project can move on to the building stage, said Jim Olliver, provost of SPJC's Seminole campus.

"This is a red-letter day for the library," he said. "Now the work begins."

-- Times staff writer Edie Gross contributed to this report.

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