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    Largo staff backs park site for library

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


    LARGO -- A new library should be built in Largo Central Park instead of on the former City Hall site, city officials have determined.

    But the final decision will be made by the City Commission, which will discuss the options in a work session tonight at City Hall.

    City staff members reached their decision on a recommendation for the park site after reviewing site plans drawn by an architectural firm for both locations. Although the drawings showed a two-story library could be built on either site, city officials think the old City Hall site would be too small to accommodate any future expansion.

    They also do not want to put a library on a site officials think could be developed into retail stores or office space that would spark the economic revitalization of downtown Largo.

    If the City Hall site is chosen, "there will be no room for potential expansion of library services in the future, and the city will lose a valuable opportunity to redevelop this parcel," Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert wrote in a memo to city commissioners.

    Proponents of putting the library on the vacated City Hall site were dismayed with Schubert's recommendation.

    "How about (building) three (stories)?" asked Comfy Von Eitzen, a neighborhood activist who gathered 703 signatures for a petition in September asking commissioners to consider building the library on the old City Hall site. "There's no property taxes in the sky."

    "I still feel it would be easy to have everything we need on the City Hall site," said Largo Library Foundation board member Jay Dobkin.

    Discussion about a new library began more than a year ago when a city-hired consultant determined that the current 36,000-square-foot facility is too small. The study concluded that by 2010, Largo will need a 93,000-square-foot library.

    A study by the architectural firm Harvard, Jolly, Clees and Toppe showed two site plans: onefor a library on the old City Hall site, and one for the park. The first plan on the vacated City Hall site shows a library with park space on both sides of the building, with a reflecting pool in front of the library. The second plan shows a library with 25,000 square feet of retail space on both sides of the building with smaller park space than the first plan.

    Cost estimates for a library on the vacated site range between $17.7-million and $22.1-million.

    The site plan for the park shows the library on Central Park Drive, directly across from the Largo Cultural Center. Such plans would cost $17.3-million to $19.7-million.

    Mayor Bob Jackson said he would like to see at least three site plans for the park.

    Von Eitzen said she would be disappointed to see the city build a library in the park. Largo Central Park is one of the city's most popular landmarks and its largest area of green space.

    "I just think Largo Central Park is such a pretty place, and I would hate to see the green space taken away," she said.

    Schubert said he had similar concerns about building the library in the park. But he said the park was the only location where a library of that size could be comfortably built with room for future expansion.

    "While I would prefer that the library not be built in any current city parkland . . . it is apparent that the only viable site for the construction of the library is the east side of Largo Central Park," he wrote.

    Schubert also said he thought a new library in that part of the park would create an exciting "park experience" for people visiting the park.

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