LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Since its birth in the 1980s, Lakewood Ranch has boasted elegant, well-kept neighborhoods where crime is low and the grass is healthy. The master-planned community has its own post office, shopping plaza, state-of-the-art hospital and Town Hall among an array of other Utopian amenities.
But Lakewood Ranch never got its own library. If residents want to take out books or movies, do research or use a computer, they have two options: Travel north to the Braden River Library in Bradenton or south to the Fruitville Public Library in Sarasota -- each about a 15 minute drive.
For residents in Lakewood Ranch who are seeking convenience, having to travel outside of town isn't cutting it. But the county -- which has had an austere budget for the past six years since the economy plunged -- simply cannot afford to build another library.
"Braden River is too small," said Lakewood Ranch resident Maureen Asterita. "And to me, Fruitville doesn't feel like our library in Manatee."
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Asterita, who moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Lakewood Ranch in 2004 to retire with her husband, misses having a local library.
"You would go there and you felt at home. It was a place where you would see your neighbors even if you didn't sit and talk with them for hours," Asterita said.
When Dorothy Scheuer moved to Lakewood Ranch in April 1998, she noticed a library was missing. She had started a small library in her old neighborhood, The Meadows in Sarasota. She and her neighbor, Kay Songster, decided to open one here.
In 2005, they received permission and were given a space the size of a large bedroom inside Town Hall to stock books for residents to borrow. It runs on the honor system. They trust patrons to bring books back on their own.
Now, eight years later, that room has been cut in half. One side was made into offices. The other holds six
book cases containing mostly romance and mystery paperbacks and a small table with four folding chairs. Behold, the Lakewood Ranch Library.
Eva Rey, Lakewood Ranch executive director, said she understands some residents' desire for a library, but doesn't think it's possible to bring one to the area in the near future. "We've got what we've got here," Rey said. "We're trying to fill the need as best as we can with our lending library."
Rey stressed that whether a library gets built in Lakewood Ranch is up to the county.
The county says chances of a new library are slim.
"With the local economy on the rebound and property values slowly returning, Manatee County Commissioners have chosen to allocate modest budget gains to the Manatee Sheriff's Office in hopes of improving public safety," Nick Azzara, Manatee county spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. "The Board has been reluctant to fund new facilities, especially those that require additional staff and maintenance costs."
For now, Asterita goes to her local Goodwill book store to buy or donate books. It's not the library, but it somewhat satisfies her craving for community. "A library gets you out of your home, away from TV screens and video games and puts you in a place where you can explore," she said.