Extension facility down, not out

Published May 2, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - The loss of a state grant to build a new County Cooperative Extension building shouldn't derail the first phase of the long-awaited project, according to the director of extension services.

But how it will affect the second phase remains unclear.

Director Donna Peacock told Hernando County commissioners Tuesday that she would continue to apply for grants next year, in lieu of the $1-million state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences money the county did not receive this year.

The grant would have gone toward the construction of a green, or environmentally responsible, building to replace the agency's current set of ragged offices. The money also was intended to offset the cost of hardening one section, which is expected to be used for residents and their pets during hurricanes.

"Our project was ranked third out of a list of local projects throughout the state, " Peacock said. "We were extremely disappointed. But I'm optimistic. There's always next year."

Commissioner Dave Russell said he learned two days ago that the grant, along with others for similar state projects, was lost to last-minute health care appropriations. He commended Peacock for working to get the grant application as far as it did.

"Past experience has shown me that sometimes it takes two or three tries, " Russell said. "We'll try again."

Last year, the County Commission voted to give the extension about $3.5-million to replace its Brooksville offices over the next two years.

Within the next six months, construction is expected to begin on the first phase of the building, two classrooms, totaling 4, 500 square feet at $1.5-million. The county plans to use these rooms to house residents and their pets during hurricanes.

The next phase will include the $2-million construction of 8, 500-square-foot administrative offices. While the $1.5-million has been set aside for the first phase, the second has yet to be programmed into next year's budget.

The current extension building, made up of three mobile homes, was meant to be temporary. The Southwest Florida Water Management District donated the structures in 1991.

Among other problems, leaky windows have allowed rain into the building and left behind rotting floors and baseboards.

The Extension Service provides programs in agriculture, livestock and consumer sciences, offering classes on such subjects as food safety, marriage preparation and gardening.

Also Tuesday:

- Commissioners debated ballot language for the upcoming Spring Hill Fire Rescue referendum, which most likely will take place on the November 2008 general election day.

Rather than decide on specific language, commissioners agreed to wait for the results of a comprehensive study on county fire services, due in January 2008. Thirty days after publication of that study, the ballot language will be determined.

- Commissioners approved the purchase of another Elgin Boulevard home for $225, 325. It is one of several purchased since commissioners decided to widen the heavily traveled road in February. A total of 34 homes on the north side of the road, running from Mariner Boulevard east to Lauren Drive and Sand Ridge Boulevard, will be razed.

- The board agreed to pay a $25, 000 fine imposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection for pollution at the county's Public Works Department site in South Brooksville. From the late 1950s to 2003, solvents, paints, fuels and pesticides at the site spilled into the ground, polluting neighboring yards and fouling the Floridan Aquifer.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.