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Library seeks funds to expand

The Westgate Library project is scheduled for 2005, but the Town 'N Country Alliance is hoping to do it sooner. "That library is so small for the area it covers,'' the Alliance president says.

By JANE BOKUN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2000


TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- Citing growth in the area, the Town 'N Country Alliance has asked the Hillsborough County Commission to give it money years ahead of schedule to expand the Westgate Library.

The project was to be funded with $800,000 in Community Investment Tax money in 2005, but Joyce Smith, president of the Alliance, said the library urgently needs more space and more computers.

"That library is so small for the area that it covers," Smith said.

"And it's the one resource that is utilized by the entire community, including all ages and various economic, social and ethnic groups."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ben Wacksman, who represents the Town 'N Country area, agrees that the Westgate branch should be renovated earlier and said he's optimistic that early funding will be granted.

"Westgate should be at least comparable to other libraries" in the county, Wacksman said.

"Because the 25-year-old Westgate Library on Paula Drive has been made into a regional library it should be at least 25,000 square feet," said Charlene Ponce, an aide with Wacksman's office. It currently has 15,000 square feet. Plans call for a 4,000-square-foot expansion.

Carolyn Rankin, principal librarian for Westgate Library said the facility is considered a regional library because it is open seven days a week.

She said the library sees anywhere from 32,000 to 35,000 people a month.

"That number is lower than the other regional libraries because we have fewer books and amenities," Rankin said. "But it's still higher than even the main library."

At a workshop last week, Wacksman said he asked that releasing library expansion money sooner be brought up, but he doubts that the item will be approved.

The issue will be reviewed at another budget workshop June 28 at the County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd. The time for the meeting has not yet been set.

"I'd like to see library construction begin during the next fiscal year," Wacksman said.

But there may be problems with that timetable.

"There are other libraries like the North Tampa branch that are considered more urgent and have been moved up on the list of libraries eligible for renovation consideration in 2004,"Ponzi said.

Friends of the library, a group that has formed in the Westchase/Countryway communities, is requesting a new library off Sheldon Road. That proposed facility also has been added to the library board's unfunded list for consideration.

The chance that nearby Westchase will have a library before Westgate's expansion is unlikely according to Wacksman.

"According to the list, Westgate's expansion will happen first," he said.

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