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    A Times Editorial

    It's better to build once to meet needs at nature preserve

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 21, 2002

    Sometimes the ways of government are mysterious.

    Try to figure this one out: The county is building a lovely environmental education center in the Brooker Creek Preserve. It's the first new structure specifically designed for Brooker Creek and is intended finally to give the public an inside look at the well-guarded 8,500-acre preserve.

    But county employees who work at the preserve won't be able to use it. Why?

    Uh, because the building was designed without space for them.

    County commissioners were not happy to learn Tuesday that work space for most preserve employees was not included in the much-touted $9-million center, an Old Florida-style structure scheduled to be completed in June 2003. They were unhappy enough that two of them voted against a proposal, approved by the majority of commissioners after some grumbling, to spend almost $236,000 for a modular building the staff can use.

    County staffers explained that space for preserve workers was not included in the center design because those workers were housed in an old house on the property that was expected to last until an office building could be constructed in about five years.

    But now the foundation of the house is sinking, the walls are separating from the ceilings, and the building is becoming unsafe to work in. The county must scramble to get employees out, and a modular building described as something like a portable classroom is regarded as the temporary solution.

    Hey, it beats a tent.

    Ground was broken for the environmental education center early last month, but it has been in the works for a long time. Early conceptual drawings were released in mid 1996. An architect was hired in September 1999. The groundbreaking ended 18 months of intensive work on the design to make sure the rambling structure with tin roof and porches would blend in with its forest surroundings. Environmentally friendly building methods are being used.

    "Our main mandate is to minimize the impacts we have on this last wild area of our county, and we've tried very hard to do that," center manager Claudia Lewis told the Times just prior to the groundbreaking.

    That's great, and the center will be a wonderful facility for the public.

    But with all that interest in "building green" and minimizing impacts, it seems as if someone on the county staff would have figured out it would be less disruptive to the preserve and the wildlife there for the county to have one building project -- not one now and another in five years -- and to combine all the needed uses on one site.

    It would have been less expensive, too, to build it all now. Instead, the county will have to shell out more than $200,000 for a modular box (won't that blend in well?), and pony up more money later to build something more permanent for employees.

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