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Bonita & Estero Magazine

New Chapter for Bonita’s Beloved Library: One of Bonita's Most Cherished Institutions Gets a New Home

A rendering of the east side of the new library.

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it’’ becomes “Read all about the extras!’’ as one of Bonita Springs’ oldest and most cherished institutions gets a new home. The venerable public library will move in the summer of 2019 from Terry Street, where it has been located since 1976, to facilities nearly three times larger in the heart of downtown.

The $14 million library is being constructed at a site provided by the city of Bonita Springs, at Childers Street and Felts Avenue. The site is near the sheriff’s substation and landmark Banyan tree. Coincidentally, the new location is a stone’s throw from the 1953 founding site of the library.

The most important change is the addition of a second floor, allowing children and teens to have their own designated sections. That should help them feel at home and enjoy activities such as story times and video and board games without disturbing others.

That added space will allow much larger attendance—up to 150 people, seated—at programs such as book discussions and civic meetings that now can handle fewer than 40 attendees. “Bonita loves and supports its library,’’ notes Jill Horrom, the public library system’s senior supervisor for southern Lee County. “We’re excited about this project.’’

Horrom says project planners paid attention to an advance user survey showing, among other things, that most patrons use the library year-round at least once a week. Users tend to be more than 60 years old and well educated. Patrons place priorities on using the library for entertainment and education, and look forward to further online services, arts and crafts, book discussions, computer classes, movies and other presentations—and even yoga.

The new location, across the Old 41 main drag from Riverview Park and the Shangri-La resort, raises civic hopes that the modern library will be a catalyst for a long-awaited downtown renaissance. Brand-new streets, roundabouts, street lights and drainage are in place.

“Those with businesses and homes downtown are really looking forward to having this cultural resource located there,’’ says Bonita historian Charlie Strader. “It should be an economic anchor and a place for the community to learn and socialize.’’

The venue is sure to draw a crowd. The Terry Street location, situated among Bonita’s middle school, recreation center complex and swimming pool, drew nearly 115,000 visits by patrons borrowing nearly 300,000 items last year, Lee County records show. And the library had to close down—because of Hurricane Irma flood damage that occurred in September—until Dec. 26.

“It will likely attract 500 to 1,000 people per day downtown, and it will be designed in the ‘Old Florida’ style that is being promoted in the downtown area,’’ comments Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons. “It will be an anchor for downtown.

“The city is thrilled to have partnered with Lee County on a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility,’’ the mayor adds. What will become of the Terry Street property is undecided, Lee County officials say.

Tiffany Esposito, of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, concurs. “We are excited about the new library and the continued growth of the downtown Bonita area,’’ she says. “The library will serve as a great hub for our community.’’

Preview of What Is Coming

Area library chief Horrom and Lee County’s communications director, Betsy Clayton, offer a preview of what new is in store for the library:

  • Puppet show stage in the children’s section

  • A total of 50 public-access computers, up from 39 currently

  • Covered drive-up area with automated returns for books and other materials

  • Study rooms with Skype access, each room for four to eight teenagers

  • A conference room seating up to 20 people, for non-profit and civic groups

  • Three second-floor balconies for relaxed outdoor reading

  • A landscaped reading garden at ground level

Lee County Library System has 14 locations. The closest regional hub is South County in Estero, which was built in 1996. Materials at all locations will continue to be available for borrowing.

The new Bonita library, officials point out, will go by the official title of the “Lee County Public Library in Bonita Springs” But for library users—whether locals, snowbirds or visitors—who are eager for a brighter atmosphere and additional services, the title will be just “Great!” 

A ‘Special Friend’ Indeed—Who Leads From Experience

The Bonita library has a “special friend” who knows the importance of libraries from personal experience. Helena Nesbit, president of the Friends of the Bonita Springs Library, came to the United States from post-World War II Germany as a 4-year-old. Sponsored by a church to immigrate to Connecticut, no members of her family knew the English language.

But, by luck, there was a library around the corner from their new home. Nesbit explains that the librarian there “took me under her wing,’’ teaching the young girl about all kinds of words and pictures. “I credit her for opening up my world,’’ Nesbit insists. “I grew up loving libraries.’’

Nesbit’s newfound skills enabled her to read and explain item labels to her mother at the supermarket. The overall experience, she emphasizes, taught her the importance of libraries’ having books as well as newspapers and computers available for patrons of modest means. She went on to a career teaching reading and writing skills—and much more—in elementary schools.

Nesbit, of Palmira Golf & Country Club in Bonita, looks upon the Friends of the Bonita Springs Library as a charity whose proceeds stay close to home. She is passionate about raising money—averaging about $15,000 a year—via author talks and sales of donated books, CDs, DVDs and puzzles, to supplement basic Lee County budgeting.

She gathers materials herself and makes sure unsold items get good homes. Throwing away a book is unthinkable for her.

Nesbit longs for the extra space on tap for the new library so that programs such as discussion groups and author talks can accommodate more people. Gone are the days when the Friends of the Bonita Springs Library would fund a guest speaker for a maximum seated audience of only 38.

Often, the organization’s board members would choose to give up their own places for more of the public to attend and enjoy. The upcoming new library is a far cry from the original idea of a library in Bonita, which was sparked by a patron asking to borrow a book from a local beauty salon in 1949.


Friends of the Bonita Springs Library

Jeff Lytle is the retired editorial page editor and TV host from the Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.