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Public works moves to new digs

County officials expect the new surroundings - twice as much space as in the old building - will boost employee morale and community relations.

By WILL VAN SANT
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003


BROOKSVILLE -- Working in tight, dimly lit quarters with holes in the floors and ceilings, and exposed wiring all about has become standard for Hernando County Department of Public Works employees.

Such conditions, as well as the department's growth, have made the public works facilities at 201 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. -- in use for more than 25 years -- both unpleasant and inadequate, officials say.

Now, after six years of planning, the department's roughly 108 workers, plus another 32 fleet maintenance personnel, are moving this week into a new $5.6-million compound at 1525 E Jefferson St.

"You do react to your surroundings," said County Commission Chairwoman Betty Whitehouse, who has worked closely on the project. "I think morale is going to go up. I think productivity is going to go up."

According to public works director Charles Mixson, the old compound on Martin Luther King was cramped and not efficiently laid out. And, though he felt his troops had amicably served public from the old facility, Mixson said he too felt the new surroundings could not help but improve worker-community relations.

"It's a great accomplishment," Mixson said Monday as workers moved furniture and installed ceilings in rooms that abut his new office. "It's something we have been working on for a long time."

Until now, the department has been divided, with engineers in the county government center downtown and maintenance personnel at the Martin Luther King location. Mixson said having the entire staff at one site will expedite communication.

"I'm just going to be happy when we are all together," he said.

James Gantt, director of the county Purchasing and Contracts Department, said the new compound has been a successful capital project. Not only is it being completed largely on schedule, Gantt said, but by contracting the project in a way that left the county liable only for actual costs rather than a flat construction fee, money was saved.

The pocketed money, Gantt said, has been used to purchase furniture, an emergency generator and other equipment that otherwise would have had to be paid for separately.

The new compound boasts three buildings -- A, B and C -- totaling 37,000 square feet, and there is plenty of room to expand on the roughly 20-acre site. By comparison, the old 5-acre site offered only 18,650 square feet of space.

Building A is home to department administration and engineering, B to mosquito control and public works maintenance, and C to fleet maintenance. Staffers have begun to work out of Building A; and workers are expected to start using buildings B and C in 30 and 45 days, respectively.

Showers and lockers for workers are available, and, for the first time, the department will have a central file room. The entire complex is protected from lightning strikes by ion field-producing antennae, the same technology used in sports stadiums.

"My people are extremely happy," assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton said. "Everybody is ecstatic."

A dedication ceremony for the compound is scheduled June 11.

Sale of the old Martin Luther King site or turning it into a park has been talked about, but its future remains uncertain, Mixson said.

At the direction of the state Department of Environmental Protection, the county is working to clean up contamination from spilled fuel and oil at the site. Though not thought to be a threat to public health, fouled water from underneath the site will be pumped out probably through September, Mixson said. Monitoring wells, he said, would likely operate for another year.

Mixson put the amount the county has paid for its mitigation effort at the old site at between $200,000 to $300,000 to date.

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansant@sptimes.com .

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