Public servant, ‘library champion’ gets her due

OUR POSITION: A growing city does too.

While Shannon Staub was the rightful star of the grand opening of a new South Sarasota County library Tuesday morning, the city of North Port was the constellation.

The former Sarasota County commissioner received myriad accolades at the ribbon-cutting for the public library named in her honor. All well-earned.

But a background focus at the ceremony was the expected impact of the new Suncoast Technical College, which is paired with the Shannon Staub Library on a large campus off Toledo Blade Boulevard and Interstate 75. And recognition of what the new facilities represent for this region.

From a small city — little more than a one stoplight town — North Port has grown in a matter of decades into a city of 65,000-plus.

With retail businesses, housing developments and, in a little over a year, a spring training stadium for the Atlanta Braves. From a town that sent its children off to high school in Venice until 2001, to a city with one large high school of its own, three elementary schools, two middle schools and a charter school.

And now, an impressive, new technical school to serve students and adults in South County, and nearby Charlotte County. The new school comes five decades after the county’s main vocational school opened in Sarasota. Its opening highlights the population shift and growing importance of North Port and South County in the region.

As a number of speakers mentioned Tuesday, the agreement to build a tech school came together quickly in early 2014 during a public “convocation” of local governments. Of course, the groundwork was laid well before. And behind-the-scenes work to extend vocational-technical education to serve South County had been percolating for years.

At that point, though, all government officials in the room agreed it was time. The school district found and bought the property. A timeline was put in place; funding found.

Key to it all was collaboration between the county government and School Board: the idea to combine the technical school’s media center with a library for public use.

Combining both harnessed resources and met the needs of two public entities with different but related missions. In addition — thanks to lobbying from the North Port City Commission — the building package was revised to include space for a 120-seat conference room. Today, that space doubles as the school cafe and a meeting space for public meetings — catering conveniently available from STC culinary students.

Kudos Tuesday went to former state senator (and former county School Board member) Nancy Detert, who helped secure $3 million in special state funding ($2 million for the school and $1 million for the library.) Detert is now the county commissioner serving North Port. Many heads made this work.

But Detert, and all other speakers, spotlighted Staub’s enormous influence, not only throughout her 14 years on the commission (also representing North Port), but after Staub left elective office.

“She didn’t just walk away … she stayed in public service,” Detert said.

Staub accepted a request to become the volunteer-leader and public face of a newly created Library Foundation for Sarasota County, which has now raised $1 million to support programs and buy materials for the county’s libraries.

The new 22,321-square-foot library itself is stylishly modern, open and attractive. It has a Friends bookstore, conference/ study rooms, two reading gardens, a children’s room and a “teen room,” computers and a drive-through for returns. The newest library feature — coming eventually to other libraries — is something called a Creation Station, a space for hands-on learning, including a 3-D printer. It’s a new type of library space that Staub hoped “will unleash curiosity and creativity.”

As for personal acknowledgment of exemplary public service, when then-County Commissioner Christine Robinson first suggested the honorific, Staub demurred. Naturally.

Tuesday, though, she received her due: her name on a public building and a plaque signifying she was a “Library Champion.”

That and more.

by Tom Renihan, Volunteer/Publicist for The Friends of Shannon Staub Public Library, Inc.

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