library

After years of talk, the Key may soon enter a new chapter in its quest to redevelop the Key Biscayne Branch Library: Vice Mayor Frank Caplan said he’s started working on a draft Interlocal Agreement with Miami-Dade County, and will present it to his colleagues soon.

Caplan, Council member Katie Petros and Village Manager John Gilbert met with Miami-Dade Library officials in early November to discuss a joint effort to modernize the library.

At a November 14 Council meeting, Petros said library officials presented a possible design – a two-story, 15,000-square-foot library on the current 299 Crandon Boulevard site – and laid out their desired funding option, in which the Village would front the financing for the building and the County would pay the installments on the debt.

Caplan said the County’s proposal is “certainly adequate” for a local library, and 15,000 square feet is the maximum the site will allow.

However, he noted, the Council’s discussions have focused on adding ancillary uses at the new library – meeting rooms, space for presentations, cultural space, etc. – and the County’s design wouldn’t accommodate large gatherings of much more than 100 guests.

While Caplan said an ILA for the project the County proposed would solve a lot of problems – “Our argument is that this library is deficient, and it’s been under-resourced forever, and we have traction on that argument,” he noted – Council member Gary Gross said local leaders may want to think bigger.

Gross suggested considering opting out of the County library system, and using the tax money the Village currently contributes to the system to financing a larger building with a theatre, meeting rooms, etc. “We might be able to accomplish a lot more that this community would want and need at the same time,” he said.

Where to put the larger facility would be a big question, Gross acknowledged, and his suggestion is one that has been voiced for many local projects: The Key Biscayne entry block, currently owned by locally-based developer Blue Jay Capital. “Wouldn’t it be an incredibly nice thing to be the first thing people see when they enter the Village?” Gross asked.

“As long as we’re thinking about this, let’s think big and think a little bit outside the box.”

Caplan said it’s a discussion worth having.

He noted when Village officials mentioned the idea of Key Biscayne opting out to Library System Director Ray Baker, Baker’s response was somewhat surprising: he forwarded them an example of how a similar situation was successfully handled in Miami-Dade County.

Caplan noted opting out of the library system would mean Key Biscayne would lose the benefit of sharing the large system’s resources, but that may not be as big an issue now as it was years ago, due to the amount of information that can be found online nowadays.

No matter what direction the Council ultimately takes, Caplan said he looks forward to getting an ILA draft in front of his colleagues as a starting point.

He said the agreement would let the Village inherit the schematics the County has already drawn, and then hire an architect to do formal construction drawings. The Village would be able to hold a public process to address design and programming, he said, and then put out a Request for Proposals for a contractor to build the project.

Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay praised the process: “I think that would be a wonderful start,” she said. Coming up with some kind of framework to start the dialog and get the momentum going is important.”

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