Public service, public art draw kudos at dedication of new library plaza

Published on: May 31, 2012

Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman (right) presented Harkins (second from right) a large framed Certificate of Appreciation from commissioners in gratitude for his many public service endeavors on behalf of Hillsborough’s library system. Joining the c

Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman (right) presented Harkins (second from right) a large framed Certificate of Appreciation from commissioners in gratitude for his many public service endeavors on behalf of Hillsborough’s library system. Joining the c


Public service and public art shared top billing last week when a unique and long-awaited feature of the SouthShore Regional Library was dedicated.

County officials present and past joined library advocates and friends Tuesday to formally recognize the efforts and the ingenuity that created the James J. Harkins IV Plaza, home of “Sandpiper Pavilions.” The outdoor facility with its artistic accents is the only one of its kind in the entire Hillsborough County library system.   

County Commissioner Sandy Murman delivered opening remarks calling attention to the plaza’s unique qualities before presenting a large plaque detailing the tireless efforts of its namesake, Jim Harkins.  Harkins, a Sun City Center resident, pushed campaigns to create the regional facility and its multiple aspects on 19th Avenue, beginning early in the last decade.

The plaque, Murman told the audience seated in the dappled shade of the pavilions, expresses the appreciation of Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners for Harkins’ devotion both to the library and to other South County organizations focused on public service.  Pointing specifically to Harkins’ long time involvement with the Hillsborough County Library Board, the SouthShore Friends of the Library support group and the SouthShore Round Table composed of community representatives from throughout the region, commissioners concluded with “proud to have you as a resident of Hillsborough County.” 

Similar sentiments were expressed during the dedication by Jan Platt, former county commissioner whose long public career has encompassed strong, consistent advocacy for the library system, and by Jim Johnson, a representative of fertilizer producer, Mosaic, as well as a fellow member of the county library board.  

Following the formalities, Harkins noted that when the 40,000-square-foot regional library was completed in 2006, space immediately north of the structure was simply a flat, bare concrete surface tucked between the perpendicular walls of the main library and the children’s section.  “But rather than have just a helicopter pad out there,” he said, “we were looking for a venue” that could be used for public functions by the library and for organization meetings called by the many groups existing in the South County and for community events staged by the  numerous sponsors present in the region.

This was the genesis of the plaza concept that began to take shape, Harkins indicated.  Today, finally completed, the space of about 7,000 square feet is electrically equipped for any number of programs from musical to public address,  includes both permanent and moveable seating, much of it shaded for daytime use, and is designed so that full food catering can be accomplished without entering the library building itself.

Harkins Plaza also presents a public art display inspired by the variety of salt and freshwater shore birds native to this region with its rivers, lakes and Tampa Bay shoreline.  Bill Iverson, Hillsborough’s public art projects manager when the plaza was underway, described the two pavilions installed on the plaza as recalling the long-legged herons, cranes and flamingos that are iconic symbols of  West Central Florida.

Designed by the Koryn Rolstad Studios in Seattle, each pavilion is composed of eight and 10-foot diameter disks, elevated on curved, powdered aluminum posts standing eight to 10 feet in height.  The weather-resistant disks feature cut-outs in leaf shapes, casting sun-lighted designs on the flooring below which has been sand-blasted to produce a “water drop” pattern circulating through much of the seating area.

The plaza also is equipped with umbrella-covered tables which include wi-fi connections, enabling library patrons to relax in an outdoor environment to read or use personal electronics during daylight hours. The venue is expected to be lighted, including with decorative bulbs strung along the building eaves.   

Bill Hand, who was the project’s manager in Hillsborough’s real estate section, estimated that seating for at least 100 individuals could be placed theater-style under the pavilions and that upwards of 300 could be comfortably accommodated on the plaza as a whole.

Harkins Plaza, with its public art sandpiper pavilions, etched walking surface,  built-in functions and inviting spaciousness, is yet another sign of the evolving concept of the public library.  Lorri Robinson, SouthShore principal librarian, refers to the plaza as a demonstration of the wide ranging changes underway as libraries continue to become hubs of activity in their communities, offering not only books, tapes, CDs and the information they contain but also classes, technological equipment, exhibits and community gathering venues. Echoing the thought, Jim Duffy, founder of the SouthShore Friends of the Library, has summed up the evolution by saying “it’s not just for books anymore.” 

And, Harkins, with a note of pride, added that others advocating for new libraries in the county now speak of trying to duplicate the plaza at their facilities.

Use of the various library features generally is without charge.  Arrangements to use the plaza for either daylight or evening functions can be made through library staff. 

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson