It has been a turbulent year for the county library system with a new building dedicated and a change of leadership.
In March, controversial correspondence from Library Director Glenda Ondracek to Carrabelle Branch Manager Tonia Chisolm led the library advisory board to ordered conflict resolution training for the entire library staff including volunteers.
The incident triggering the decision occurred at the April 16 county meeting. During a report on the status of the new Eastpoint library building, Commissioner Noah Lockley asked library board member Anna Carmichael about working conditions at the libraries after receiving copies of the letters from newly elected commissioner William Massey.
Retired Postmaster Judi Stokowski of Apalachicola led the training sessions.
In September, Ondracek informed the board she would retire on Oct. 31 and the search began for a new library director.
Sondra Furbee, of Apalachicola, Christine Hinton of St. James and Kate Aguilar of St. George Island were tapped to assess candidates for the position and make a recommendation to the county board.
On Nov. 19, Library Board Chair Denise Butler recommended Anne Birchwell, who was already employed full-time as an assistant librarian, for the position. Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the recommendation and Birchwell began her new duties on November 25.
Eastpoint got a new library this year. On October 22, after eight years of fundraising, the 5,000-square-foot Vulcan steel building housing more than 17,000 books was dedicated.
The final chapter in the saga of Eastpoint’s library didn’t come without a fight.
During July budget hearings, the library board told commissioners rent on the new building would increase $1,700 monthly over the rent for the old library storefront.
Commissioners Smokey Parrish, Cheryl Sanders and Lockley all objected to the increase.
“I have a problem with the way this whole thing is going down. It more or less seems to me is that they were going to do this grand thing for the community in Eastpoint, but we had no ability to have design input. We did not agree to fund the library and now we’re looking at mortgage payments,” said Parrish.
Lockley took the harshest stance, suggesting that the county stick to its $1,000 a month rental payment, and that the Friends of the Library consider selling off portions of the 13-acre tract on which the library is located to raise additional funds. His suggestion was not met with support from his colleagues.
The large plot of land was deeded to the library by the Northwest Florida Water Management District with the understanding that the wetlands be preserved. The area is part of the headwater of Indian Creek, which empties into Apalachicola Bay.
In the end, the county did accept the increased rent.
As almost her final act as director, Ondracek welcomed 150 celebrants to the library dedication.
Joyce Estes, who spearheaded fundraising efforts for the new Eastpoint branch, said that, while the interior is complete, major work remains on the landscape and parking lot.
In collaboration with the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, a nature trail is planned for the seven acres of land surrounding the library. Ornamental plantings are also envisioned in front of the building and around the parking lot.