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Old library closes without fanfare

October 11, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

April 13, 1980 was a big day in the history of North Fort Myers. It was then that a new, permanent library building was dedicated at 2001 N. Tamiami Trail.

On Saturday, at 5 p.m., the last book was checked out, the last meeting was held, and a chapter in the history of this area came to a close as the old library closed.

It will eventually be demolished and replaced with new, $12.5 million state-of-the-art library slated to open in the summer of 2019.

In the meantime, the library will move to a temporary location at 50 Pine Island Road, behind the old Buddy Freddy's restaurant. That location was expected to open Tuesday at noon after a three-day moving process.

If all goes according to plan, the old facility will be demolished in a matter of weeks.

For people within the system and out, the loss of the old building is only slightly bittersweet, with the new building coming in less than two years.

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"Closing signifies we're making progress with the project. The temporary site is ready for the move," said Mindi Simon, manager for the Lee County Library System. "It's not sad, it's exciting because we're not closing a library, we're building a new one. We've heard nothing but positive things."

"It's about the staff and the programming and the collection. The libraries are all a community in and of itself and they serve the community. That community will transition," said Tim Engstrom, communications specialist.

Mike Pavese, planner, Lee County Facilities Construction and Management, said there is some sentiment from people who grew up with the library, but the time has come.

"It's like a car you've owned for 20 years. You hate to get rid of it, but it's time. These folks have outgrown the facility and we're going to give them something that's three times the size of what's there," Pavese said. "They're beyond growing pains, they need a bigger facility."

Pavese said a big milestone was passed last week when the Guaranteed Maximum Price was approved by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. All permits are expected to be in hand by Oct. 23, which is when the project manager expects to issue a notice to proceed.

"That means he gives formal permission for the construction manager to begin construction," Pavese said. "We will demolish the existing building, clear the site and bring in stabilizing material so we can create an area for the groundbreaking."

Pavese said the groundbreaking is expected sometime in November.

The North Fort Myers Public Library started in 1975 as a volunteer-run facility operating out of a rented storefront. The Rotary Club wanted to get a public library for the people in the northern part of Lee County and orchestrated fundraising and volunteer efforts to make it happen, including a $200,000 grant.

The money was also used to purchase books, with a matching grant from the Lee County Library System; North Fort Myers High School's shop classes built shelves for the books.

Still, there was a need for a more permanent structure. That started with a donation to the county by Dr. William Dakos, with Lee County purchasing adjoining land.

That led to the opening of the new library in 1980, a 5,000-square-foot facility that housed 4,000 books. Soon, with the area booming in population, that became inadequate.

The library was expanded to 9,000 square feet and was rededicated on Aug. 28, 1995, with the book collection growing to 45,000. Before long, computers, CDs, DVDs, and other media became a fixture as well, with the need for computers so great they moved many of them to the recreation center once that was built in 2013.

This was one of the reasons the community started looking into a new library, as the old structure had once again been outgrown by the community.

Linda Yorde, of the Friends of the North Fort Myers Library, said the staff and convenience made it the place to go.

"When we moved here from the Keys, a library within a close distance was among the criteria," Yorde said. "The availability of current material and research is wonderful."

Yorde said she will miss the old place, but she is looking forward even more to two years down the road, when the new library is expected to open.

"The new one will have adequate space and won't need repairs or worry about the roof leaking. That's what we're really going to look forward to," Yorde said.



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