New chapter: Boca expands what "library" means for early voting

 

Gov. Rick Scott last year included libraries on an expanded list of sites where early voting can occur and the city of Boca Raton, in turn, is expanding its definition of "library."

It's been nearly a year since anyone checked out a book at the old Downtown Library, located at the corner of Northwest Second Avenue and Second Street. But that's the place the city offered for August's early voting at a downtown location – if the state agrees.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said that her staff went to the new Downtown Library a few weeks ago, scouting out how the early voting for the primary election on Aug. 11 to Aug. 24 would be set up. Instead, library officials sent Bucher and her team two blocks away to the old library, now closed.

Turns out, Bucher said, the new Downtown Library is too booked up to accommodate the early voting for both the primary and the general election. People paying to use the rooms can't be moved.

The new Downtown Library, she said, is a beautiful building, but the old one, well, not so much.

"It needs some cleaning and upgrades," Bucher said.

Bucher said the city manager's office first suggested to her that her workers clean out the debris from the old facility. But Mike Woika, assistant city manager, said he doesn't recall that.

She said the city will have to await the Secretary of State's ruling on whether the disused building still qualifies as a "library." If the ruling goes against using it, early voters would be limited to the Spanish River Library, Bucher said.

The supervisor said she's never encountered a situation like this.

But Mayor Susan Haynie said she believes the old building will pass muster.

"The [library] sign is out there," she said.

What the city will do with the 21,000 square foot building remains an open question that the city has not yet answered – beyond using it for early voting.

Piles of books are still scattered around. At the main desk, the sign "checkout" is next to where chairs and other furniture had been moved. The lighting is on, but the air conditioner is not.

What the city should do with the old library has been brought before the City Council many times. Lenore Wachtel, a longtime city resident and activist, has been prodding the Council since it was first emptied out.

"It's prime real estate," said Wachtel, who owns commercial property in the city.

Bucher told the City Council that in 2016, her office would prefer to use the newer library.

"It looks to be a beautiful community center," she told the City Council last month, noting that she expects larger crowds in 2016. "I'm pretty sure your voters want to utilize the facility they just paid for."

Ageggis@tribune.com, 561-243-6624 or Twitter @AnneBoca

Copyright © 2015, South Florida
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