BY ALICE GORMAN - The dictionary defines “transformation” as “a marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.” Those words perfectly describe the building and renovation project that has taken place at the Johann Fust Library over the past year. Through the perseverance of the board of directors and the cooperation of Lee County and the generosity of so many residents of Boca Grande, an idea that began as a dream several years ago is a living reality today.
What has changed? Other than the new parking lot across the street, the crosswalks, and the handicapped parking space in front, the exterior appearance is not so different. The newly painted building is still pink. The magnificent original cypress doors still create a dramatic entryway to the interior. The front steps, when finished, will be the same coral stone as the original steps. The bicycle rack is still exactly where it always was.
Changes that cannot be seen are the result of discoveries made during the renovation process. The doors were riddled with live termites. They have been tented, treated, and repaired by experts. The steps were crumbling, an accident waiting to happen. They have been replaced with a concrete base and new stone that will last for generations to come. Inside, the electric system and climate controls have been completely upgraded or replaced.
Other changes are more obvious and have made a significant difference. The handicapped-access ramp has been redesigned for greater accessibility and is surrounded by colorful, tropical plantings. The old stacks room has truly been transformed. Rather than the dark, cluttered, intimidating space with tight rows of metal shelves, the library is open, light-filled, and inviting. On one side of the room, our Lee County librarian, Toni Vanover, and her assistant, Mary Vickers, will alternate at a desk with a self-check-out machine. As small as the room once seemed, there is as much shelf space as in the reference room in the community center.
The old office space with the small fireplace has become the James Stratton Reading Room. Glass cases around the room will house the rare book collection belonging to the Johann Fust Library Foundation, as well as books by local authors and about Florida history. Behind it, the old children’s library has become the office for Jon Bednerik, the executive director for the foundation, and the library volunteers.
The greatest visual and spatial change has occurred in the garden. A new fountain with a beguiling fish on a concrete medallion, created by Larry Anderson, spouts water into a pair of antique shells that then spills into a pool below. The new planting designed by Mary Ellen Flannagan is a dramatic use of space and plant material. Each plant will be identified by its botanical name. The grassy area in the center of the garden and the surrounding walkways are twice as large as they originally were—large enough to accommodate a tent in case of inclement weather. The loggia has new track lighting and fans with new shelving for the rare shell collection. There is Wi-Fi throughout the buildings and grounds. On a daily basis, during library hours from 9-5, the garden is a place of serenity for all to enjoy.
In addition to a smaller fountain in the rear garden, donated by The Planters Garden Club, the old potting shed has been transformed into an intimate and charming children’s library. Inside the children of residents and visitors will find shelves full of books for all ages and a nook for reading or being read to. A door on the south side leads to a contained Secret Garden.
Across the rear garden is the biggest change of all. Sam Holladay and Michael Epstein of Seibert Architects in Sarasota have converted the old garage and storage area into a modern, functional Media Center. The roof has been raised to create a clerestory for natural light. Inside the walls are lined with shelves for DVDs, audio books and magazines. There will be eight computers and a self-checkout machine, plus another librarian’s desk for Toni and Mary. Windows, once hidden, now look out on the garden. View More images >>
What has not changed is the character of the Library. The essence of the Library remains the same as it was when Roger Amory and his family gave it to Boca Grande in 1950. At that time, he chose to name the library for Johann Fust, the 17th century financier who made the Gutenberg Press possible. Mr. Amory also left instructions, through the original by-laws of the library, that the board of directors must do whatever is necessary to keep the library “a viable and modern institution.”
Today, because of the public/private partnership with Lee County, the innovative renovations to the buildings, and the redesign of the gardens, the library is not only viable and modern, but it also continues to be the place of peace and literary heritage that it was intended to be.
A grand opening, sponsored by the Johann Fust Library Foundation, will be held on November 8 for the entire community of Boca Grande. Prior to the grand opening, beginning in mid-May, after all the books and materials in the reference room have been moved from the Community Center, the transformation will be complete.
The new Johann Fust Library will be in full operation on 10th Street and will remain open all summer.
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