One Year Later - Finally Moving Forward

Thoughts from Library Community Relations Director Mary Gail Dufresne Coffee

Today marks the first anniversary of the successful passage of the bond referendum that will provide the necessary funding for the new library-events center. What a year it’s been. It just wasn’t the year we thought we would have.

A year ago, Library staff, trustees, volunteers and community leaders gathered in the Library community room to eat pizza and nervously sip cocktails as we waited for the election returns to come in. Our volunteer poll checkers phoned in results as they were posted on the precinct doors and we compulsively crunched the numbers as they were updated on the state’s Department of Elections website, wanting certainty before declaring victory.

Finally City Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, no stranger to election night rituals, came to the table where I was obsessing over a laptop, an iPad and two smartphones.

“Congratulations, you did it!”
“But we don't have ALL of the numbers,” I said in adrenaline-driven earnestness. “We’ve got to be absolutely sure before we say anything.”
Sarah, realizing the problem said, “Oh honey, it’s done. There aren’t enough votes left uncounted to change it. It’s time to stop fighting. You won. The Library won. We going to build a new library for this town. It’s time to move forward.”

It’s time to move forward.

As you probably know, it wasn’t quite time to stop fighting. Moving forward was delayed by the legal maneuverings of a small group of people unhappy with the election results who wanted to block the promised site adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr. Park. It took more than 10 months and a process that will wind up costing Winter Park taxpayers over $500,000 in legal fees and interest to definitively end the fight. But with an unflinchingly clear ruling from Orange County Judge Schreiber, we have both full validation of the bonds and a clear legal determination that the park site was what the voters were promised. NOW we confidently move forward!

Here’s what moving forward looks like right now:

•   The Pizzuti Companies has been selected by the City to serve as the “owner’s representative” on the project, making sure the project is completed right, within budget and on tine. Pizzuti is a nationally recognized leader in shepherding library projects from start to spectacular finish. They understand the needs of libraries and the communities that use them. Representatives from Pizzuti have already begun meeting with City and library staff to lay the groundwork for this incredible project. Within the next few weeks, they will have a project timelines and data that will guide the planning and design phase of the project.

•   This past Monday evening, the City Commission decided the project maximum for the new library-event center is $30 million dollars. Since the WPPL’s Board of Trustees commitment to raise at least $2.5 million toward the effort, a total of $27.5 million in bonds will be issued. We expect that the bonds will be issued by this summer.

•   The Pizzuti Company is actively working to secure a contract with the team of HuntonBrady and Adjaye Associates, the design and construction architects. Once on board, the architects will move forward with community engagement, planning and design. We anticipate that process will take six to nine months.

•   Based on the outcomes of our recent work with the prestigious Aspen Institute, we have launched an Educators Roundtable where we are engaging with local leaders in education at every level: daycares, preschools, elementary schools, public schools, high schools, and universities. Working together, we are identifying ways the library can be an innovative leader by supporting education and providing our own educational programming to prepare our community for life and work in the 21st century.

•   We’re now actively investigating new technologies, hardware and software systems to create efficiency and maximum productivity in the new facility. Intelligent library systems, automated materials handlers, digital display boxes for making local history come to life are just a few of the opportunities we are exploring.

A year ago, we posted the following to our Facbook page:
"It's official - the library referendum won! Today’s victory at the polls is a win for every Winter Park resident. It’s a win for families and children. It’s a win for adults and seniors. It’s a win for local businesses and entrepreneurs. Since its inception 130 years ago, Winter Park has valued education and learning – and that is what has won today. The Library Board and staff have always said that a victory today is not the final word. It’s the beginning of a new conversation with our community about the design and specific features of the new library and civic center. We cannot wait to share this next chapter with you."

This remains no less true today. And although there were some unexpected detours along the way, we have indeed turned the page and the next chapter has arrived!

Photo above: Library Community Relations Director Mary Gail Coffee and Nicole Barnes, campaign manager for the Yes for Library-Event Center-Parking advocacy group, snap a celebratory selfie on March 15, 2016 as the election results become evident.