Local residents are closer than ever to having a public library in the Lake Nona area. On Thursday, July 8, the Orange County Library System (OCLS) Board of Trustees voted unanimously “to direct staff to pursue working with Orange County and the City of Orlando for libraries at both locations: Horizon West and Lake Nona.”
The board took this action after hearing a joint presentation delivered by representatives from Alex Feinman, assistant manager of the Orange County government’s real estate management division; Laurie Botts, real estate division manager for the City of Orlando; and Laura Carroll, real estate agent/appraiser at the City of Orlando.
The city is offering to design and build a Lake Nona area library at a site on Dowden Road in conjunction with its forthcoming government center expected to include a police substation, permitting office, commissioner’s office and meeting space. The construction will be managed by the city’s experienced project managers and will occur at the city’s cost with no upfront capital outlay required by the OCLS.
Upon completion, the library building would be leased back to OCLS by the city. OCLS would be responsible for all of the furniture, fixtures, equipment and supplies; the library CFO affirmed that the library system will have the funds to cover this expense.
Since the city is taking care of upfront costs associated with the Lake Nona area library, a significant amount of money is freed up that the OCLS can direct to costs associated with designing and building the Horizon West branch. Originally, the OCLS was looking to spend about $4.1 million to buy a 17-acre (12 of which are buildable) parcel of land that is co-owned by the county and city.
As part of the new partnership, the county would offer OCLS an opportunity to lease only the actual land needed for the branch. OCLS would be responsible for paying for the design and construction of the building, access road and parking lot. This arrangement saves taxpayers about $4.1 million plus future maintenance and security costs that would have been associated with the upkeep of the 17 acres. There are additional cost savings through economies of scale and shared purchasing power of building the branches together.
Both libraries are expected to be about 20,000-square-feet, one-story buildings. The city and county will hire outside appraisers to determine the value of the land (Horizon West) and new Class A building (Lake Nona). Both branches are expected to be 30-year leases with three 5-year options. If everything goes well, both leases will be signed at the same time, and officials estimate that both will be developed and completed simultaneously.
Library executive director Mary Anne Hodel expressed appreciation to the governmental entities for their efforts in creating an innovative, collaborative proposal.
“There have been some real positives that have come out of this – the ground lease by the city and county in Horizon West and the building lease by the city at Lake Nona frees up very precious dollars for the construction of both libraries,” Hodel said. “The offer of the ground lease in Horizon West means that we don’t have to purchase the entire 17-acre parcel so we can concentrate on the construction cost and design. The offer of the city of the design firm and the considerable talent of the city’s project manager is a huge bonus for the library, saving us dollars that can be spent on the actual construction.”
The July vote is a big first step, but many other details need to be worked out including surveys, appraisals, lease negotiations and approvals. This part could take anywhere between six to 12 months.
While the timeline of the Horizon West branch will be determined by the OCLS in coordination with the county, the city is ready to begin paperwork on the Lake Nona Area branch now. The Lake Nona timeframe is expected to be accelerated as the city has been ready to begin on the government center for a while now, Botts said.
“The City of Orlando is holding up its design-build RFP for you. It is that important to the residents in the Lake Nona area that we’re holding it up,” she explained.
While there remains a long road ahead of negotiations, the trustees expressed optimism about the development of both branches. Board chairman Crockett Bohannon called the presentation “outstanding.”
“The opportunity is what’s important … we could wait five years, and the prices will be higher,” Bohannon said of the Lake Nona proposal.
Trustee Lizannette Tam said of the city and county offerings: “I think this is just a bonus of getting another library in another community. If it works out, fantastic. I support that.”
The Lake Nona area branch must be approved by the OCLS Trustees and the City Council. The Horizon West branch must be approved by the OCLS Trustees, the Board of County Commissioners, and the City Council. Both City Commissioner Jim Gray and County Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero were in attendance and spoke at the meeting.
“We are aligned with you and aligned with the county because it’s what our residents want. You have my commitment,” Commissioner Gray told the trustees. “I know there’s some details, but we will get them figured out and come back to this board. … I’m telling you, as a city commissioner, I’m committed to doing them both.”
Commissioner Cordero thanked everyone involved for their work and shared that she and Commissioner Gray have been working on the library effort behind the scenes.
“I have also been meeting with some of you, including Mary Anne, since day one when I came into office because this library was requested from the community since then or before then,” Cordero said. “I love the library. It’s amazing, and it’s very needed by our community.”
There was standing-room-only attendance at the board meeting with at least 35 Lake Nona area residents participating. Local student Justin Sabitsch, age 10, traveled to the meeting with his mother, Dr. Wendy Bray, and shared that there’s nothing like holding a real book.
“I prefer getting books at the library for two reasons. First, I can try and test out the books that I don’t know about and sit and read them and see what I think. Second, I prefer getting a real book instead of reading it online or on a screen,” Justin told the trustees. “I think there’s a big opportunity for the possible library, and I would really love to have a library in Lake Nona.”
In addition to Justin and Bray, other residents who spoke included Phelycia Marsh, a school psychologist; Kevin Kendrick, a realtor and community leader who sponsored the Lake Nona library bookmark campaign; Dr. Tammy Esteves, Troy University e-campus MPA professor; Chadwick Hardee, a business owner and county PTA board member; and Raaya Rehman, a third-grade student.
Director Hodel said that her team can’t wait to get started on working with the city and the county on both libraries.
“We hear so much these days about dysfunction in government, and ‘they can’t get anything done’ – but here we have a wonderful example of local government agent entities working together to solve community problems. That’s what I think taxpayers expect, and I’m very happy that all three entities can move forward on this project in the spirit of cooperation that has been evidenced here so abundantly tonight,” she said.
To support the effort for a library in the Lake Nona area, sign and share the petition at change.org/nonalibrary.
You can also attend the next Library Board of Trustees Meeting scheduled on Thursday, Aug. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Orlando Public Library: 101 E. Central Blvd., Orlando FL 32801.