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    Project to put postal workers under one roof

    Once Palm Harbor's post office expansion is done, some employees will no longer have to work in a carport.

    By TARA DOLAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


    PALM HARBOR -- A $2-million building expansion under way at the Palm Harbor post office will relieve cramped working conditions and literally bring postal workers in from the rain, officials say.

    Construction began Oct. 1 and will add about 18,000 square feet to the post office on Alt. U.S. 19.

    The expansion will give employees ample space to sort parcels, postal officials said. Currently postal workers sort about 1,900 parcels a day outside under a carport because they don't have enough space to work inside.

    Palm Harbor Postmaster Henry Vandernoot said the original post office was built in 1976 to handle mail for about 5,000 addresses. Today that number has grown to nearly 38,000, making Palm Harbor the third-largest delivery area in Pinellas County behind Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

    "When they first built the post office, no one expected Palm Harbor to be anything," said Vandernoot, who has worked at the post office for 11 years. "Eventually they realized all those orange groves would become residential areas."

    The expansion marks the second in the post office's history. A 10,000-square-foot workroom was added in 1988, but Vandernoot said it wasn't enough to handle the area's population growth of the mid 1990s. From 1990 to 2000, Palm Harbor's population grew nearly 18 percent, from 50,256 to 59,248, according to U.S. Census statistics.

    "When the construction started in 1988, everybody said, "This is going to be great,' " Vandernoot said. "By the time the expansion was finished, it was barely big enough."

    Vandernoot said the latest expansion will allow the branch to handle the present mail volume of about 200,000 pieces a day and to prepare for growth. He described the renovation as an operational expansion, meaning that most of the benefits will remain behind the scenes.

    "We are going to redo the lobby and upgrade our retail area a little, but the main purpose is to facilitate the work of the postal carrier," he said. "We will be better at sorting and delivering; expansion will make us more efficient."

    Vandernoot said the construction will at times bring minor inconveniences such as limited parking. But he said the plan is to remain open during construction.

    The new part of the building should be complete by September, but the renovation to other parts of the building will continue well into 2002. Vandernoot said he is looking forward to seeing the finished product.

    "It will be good to be back under one roof again," he said.

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