Two years ago, an outbreak of mold forced the closure of the beloved Venice Library. The closure came as a shock, and many community-wide hearings were held as to how to replace it. More than 70 percent of county residents have library cards. This was a pressing issue for this community, perhaps the most important issue Venice has faced. The library was moved to a temporary location in the Hamilton Building, and input meetings were opened to the public.
After many meetings, a master plan was agreed upon. That plan called for a total demolition and rebuild. Dr. William H. Jervey donated $1 million for an endowment to make possible an annual gift in perpetuity to support programs, the library collection and technology innovations, and the new library was named in his honor.
The result has been a building two years in the making. At the ribbon cutting on Dec. 15, music was provided by the Venice High School Marching Band, and more than 600 members of the community attended the opening speeches. As Dr. Jervey cut the ribbon, confetti exploded from a pre-arranged gun, and fire marshals were on hand to regulate the capacity crowd. So many people were in attendance that the community’s true love for the library was clearly expressed. After all, the construction of the public library was no easy endeavor, but it was one that was collaborative from beginning to end.
The $8.8 million project was overseen by the architectural company Sweet Sparkman and built by two local construction companies, Ajax and Tandem Construction. What has resulted is a lovely Venice, Italy-inspired exterior building with a completely modern open floor interior.
The closure of the old library divided the community like few other issues.
But the new library has brought the community together again.
“This is the greatest day of my life. I can honestly say that without great libraries, I would not be here today," Dr. Jervey said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. "Having this library named after me in the city I love is awesome. I was a severe critic when the last library was closed. I hated to see it go. This is the ultimate lemons to lemonade story. This is now the crown jewel of the Venice arts campus. We have not only designed a remarkable library, but the architects listened to us. They incorporated many of the community-inspired ideas into the design.”
“For a young firm like ours, these civic projects are what we want to be involved in, projects that really affect the community," said Todd Sweet, lead architect of Sweet Sparkman. "Venice was faced with losing their library, which made the project a true and important challenge. We wanted to ease the community’s fears, work with them and incorporate their desires. It was rewarding to be involved in a project that meant so much to the community.”
Todd traveled to Venice, Italy, to draw inspiration for the exterior design of the library.
“We looked at a lot of Northern Italian architecture,” Todd says. “We did research, we used details that we found for the outside, and the inside came from a true collaboration with the community. I have never worked with such an involved community.”
“A lot of our work here is contemporary and modern. We knew this was based on Venice, Italy, and we worked within those guidelines," project manager John Bryant says. "The exterior is a Northern Italian style, but the interior is modern. As soon as you step in the doors, it is a life-filled open space. This project was a lot of fun. We looked at 500-year-old buildings, stone details and arches. Todd had gone to Venice, Italy, twice in the past two years. He gets credit for the artistic vision; others contributed to the interior.”
Kim Lam was part of the Sweet Sparkman team that designed the library’s interior.
“The challenge for us was designing something contemporary for the interior,” Kim says. “We needed to design something that fit the needs of the community, while bringing an Old World style into a modern design. We did community workshop meetings to get direct input from the people who will use this building. In any type of design, you want to serve the client. The challenge of this building was that the client was the community.”
Ground was broken on the new library in late October 2017 and completed one year later. The 19,428-square-foot building boasts large meeting and conference rooms and a Friends of the Library bookstore. The highlight of the children’s section is a Children’s Storytime Room, and the enhanced parking lot features a drive-up book return with automated check-in/sorting system. Other features of the new library include a Creation Station, reading garden and teen center. At the ribbon cutting, so many community members poured into the library that the fire chief on hand had a worried look on his face.
“We are pretty much at what we can handle,” the fire chief says. “We did not expect this many people.”
Throughout the day, more than 3,000 people visited the library.
“This is so important to our community,” County Commissioner Charles Hines says. “This is the third library opened in the county since the recession. That is something all of us in county government are proud of. Libraries are the backbones of our society. They are the great equalizers when it comes to the availability of knowledge and self-improvement. What other community has such great pride as Venice?”
“Fantastic county employees moved heaven and earth to make this project possible,” says Deborah Kostroun, president of the Friends of the Venice Public Library.
“It took a great organizational effort to get us here,” says County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. “There have been more than 37 subcontractors, 62,000 labor hours, 60 percent of the subcontractors were local to our county. Five-hundred workers contributed to this project.”
Whether they knew how beautiful their new library was or not, minutes after the ribbon cutting, young children were already engrossed reading books in the new library’s children section.