State budget plan includes millions for SPC
By ALICIA CALDWELL, LEONORA LAPETER and RICHARD DANIELSON
State lawmakers have set aside millions of dollars for a big expansion of St. Petersburg College's Tarpon Springs campus, one of more than a dozen Pinellas County projects included in the proposed state budget released Friday.
The proposed budget includes $5.4-million to help pay for a 16.6-acre tract on the corner of U.S. 19 and Klosterman Road. And it includes money to develop curriculum, hire key personnel and remodel an old library to make it the college's school of education.
"It looks to be a very successful year," said Carl Kuttler, St. Petersburg College president.
The college money was among more than $28-million in Pinellas County projects included in the conference committee report, which was hammered out by negotiators from the House and the Senate.
The budget still faces some significant hurdles. A final vote is expected next week in the Legislature. After that, the bill must clear Gov. Jeb Bush, who has shown no reluctance to veto local spending projects if they fail to meet an appropriate state need.
Other local projects that have managed to make it into the proposed budget are $250,000 for renovation of St. Petersburg's Museum of History, $400,000 to go toward beach renourishment at Sand Key and $367,240 to help the Florida Craftsmen organization purchase its building in downtown St. Petersburg.
While officials with the Florida International Museum were glad to hear that the $500,000 they had requested for renovations had made it into the proposed budget, the timing is off.
Recently, city officials spoke publicly about potential plans to move the museum around the corner and demolish the current building so that the land could be sold.
Kathy Oathout, museum vice president, said the museum would have to hold discussions with the Florida Department of State before accepting the grant, to see whether the money could be used to remodel the building to which it would move.
Building renovation is a topic also on the mind of Bill Heller, campus executive officer and vice president of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Heller hopes to get $1.5-million to purchase the Fountain Inn, a privately owned assisted living facility on Sixth Avenue S, in the heart of the St. Petersburg campus.
"We've been courting the owners of that building since 1993, so it looks like we're finally reaching a good point on that," Heller said, adding that the school would use the 48,000-square-foot building for office space.
Also up for renovation money is Great Explorations, the Hands On Museum, which plans to use its $250,000 allocation to renovate about 24,000 square feet of space in the former Coca-Cola bottling facility next to Sunken Gardens on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg.
The museum, which is now in 8,500 square feet of space on the third floor of the Pier, expects to open at Sunken Gardens by this time next year.
Of the local projects, though, St. Petersburg College appears to be the biggest winner, with about $10-million for the north Pinellas expansion.
With fall enrollment at the Tarpon Springs campus up 15 percent and the coming summer session's enrollment up 19 percent, to 5,329 students, the college says it needs all the space it can get for its two-year and new four-year programs.
The college recently signed a contract to buy the former Flextronics plant, its 642 parking spaces and its highly visible location on U.S. 19 for roughly $8-million.
The plant, which closed late last year, is immediately west of the college's Tarpon Springs campus on Klosterman Road.
With the money in the proposed state budget, the college still must raise $1.7-million for the purchase, Kuttler said. SPC administrators are talking to the college's foundation about a possible loan to provide short-term financing for the purchase. The college also plans to approach the Legislature for renovation money.
Eventually, the college would be able to add a floor in the plant's factory, doubling its space to 200,000 square feet, Kuttler said. By comparison, the buildings on the college's Tarpon Springs campus, including the new Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, encompass 160,000 square feet.
The Flextronics property also has 28,000 square feet of office space for college administration.
"There's enough square footage when you put the additional floor in to serve some of the two-year and some of the four-year," Kuttler said.
A closing on the Flextronics property is expected to take place within 90 days.
Pinellas projects in the proposed budget include:
Old Tarpon Springs High School, $321,000
Mirror Lake recreational facility renovation, St. Petersburg, $200,000
Florida Craftsmen building purchase, $367,240
St. Petersburg, Museum of History, renovation and expansion $250,000
St. Petersburg's Florida International Museum, $500,000
St. Petersburg's Great Explorations Museum, $250,000
Gulf Beach Art Center, $143,000
Sand Key Beach renourishment, $400,000
The Salvation Army Children's Village, $581,605
Pinellas County Family Emergency Treatment Center, $315,000
Focused Outreach -- Suncoast Center for Community Mental Health, Pinellas and Pasco counties, $187,500
Clearwater Homeless Intervention, $470,000
Pinellas Department of Social Services, $100,000
Critical Health Nutritional Program, Pinellas, $56,250 from tobacco settlement funds
HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment program for Pinellas, $360,000
Primary Care Outreach Program, Suncoast Hospital, $270,000
Park Boulevard drainage improvement, 500,000
Noncustodial parent program for Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough, $750,000
Pinellas County engineering study, $125,000
Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum and park, $100,000
Tyrone Boulevard overpass $400,000
Pinellas drug court, $200,000
University of South Florida/St. Petersburg, land acquisition, renovation, new construction, $1.5-million
Pinellas Bridge drug treatment facility, $1 million
St. Petersburg College, $5.4-million for acquisition of additional land next to Tarpon Springs facility; $3-million for the Tarpon campus startup costs, including curriculum development and hiring personnel; $1.8-million to transform old library to classroom space
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