An interim Venice Public Library is better than no library at all.

Still, the three Sarasota County proposed locations have their shortcomings. And two on the list could be downright dangerous choices.

The County plans to close the existing library Jan. 30 because of mold problems. At first, the County Commission solely proposed a kiosk at the neighboring Venice Art Center for borrowing and returning materials. But community outrage about the sudden loss of a library that is the de facto town square forced county officials into crisis mode. Late last week they sent a flurry of press releases, recorded a talk show with library officials, announced a community meeting Feb. 3, and came up with three interim library sites: the city-owned Hamilton Condominium complex, behind Venice Theatre on the Island; a retail location on U.S. 41 Bypass; and an office building on East Venice Avenue.

I did a drive-by inspection yesterday of the proposed sites and here’s what I found:

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The city-owned Hamilton Condominiums.

The city-owned Hamilton Condominiums, right, behind Venice Theatre, would seem to be the best pick. It’s on the Island and the city would certainly be motivated to do what it takes to get it ready.

What worries me, though, is that getting to and from that location mostly requires driving on Nokomis Avenue and crossing its treacherous intersection with Tampa Avenue. There’s no stop sign on Tampa and the visibility is bad; you have to ease out from Nokomis onto Tampa to see if it’s safe to cross. Because of construction changes made to the area around the bridge, which now towers over the complex, you also have to cut through the theater’s parking lot to access the Hamilton property, making it less than ideal. Add in matinee theater traffic and you have quite a mess.

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This building at 897 E. Venice Ave., is on the short list of locations for an interim library.

The second location at 897 E. Venice Ave. is about a half-mile off the Island over the Venice Avenue Bridge. Best way to get there is to drive. What haunts me, though, is that it is close enough to the Island for people to bike or walk, and it’s extremely dangerous to do so. Both east and westbound Venice Avenue fork at the bases of the bridge. The area is an accident hotspot, and a Venice High student nearly died in a bike accident with a vehicle two years ago.

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A retail location on U.S. 41 Bypass, between Office Depot and Firehouse, is another site the county is considering.

The third site, in a retail location in the 1500 block of U.S. 41 Bypass, next to Office Depot, requires driving. So while you are in the car anyway, it’s not that much farther to go to the Jacaranda Library, less than four miles away.

I think there’s a better solution—how about portables on the existing site?

There’s plenty of land on the library’s Cultural Campus. Sarasota County Schools could certainly provide guidance. With rapid growth and school rebuilds, school officials are adept at creating interim facilities. Venice High School provides a template; so does Charlotte High School. The Charlotte district replaced the campus and most of its other schools with portables after Hurricane Charley decimated the district.

Today, the Sarasota County Commission is meeting in Sarasota and will likely get an earful from Venice residents who are suspicious and upset about the library decisions. Stay tuned.

Residents are invited to join Sarasota County staff to discuss the future of library services in Venice at an upcoming "Community Conversation." 

The session, which will include information and a Q&A, will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at Venice Elementary School, 150 Miami Ave. E., Venice. No registration is required.

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