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Hospital could hold offices, new pool

On Tuesday, the Pinellas Park council will discuss buying the old Metropolitan Hospital site for the two projects.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- In the old Metropolitan Hospital site, the city sees space for its burgeoning work force and opportunity to fulfill a long-held promise of a neighborhood swimming pool.

The property would cost $1.6-million. The new office building and Olympic-sized pool would cost at least $2.5-million more.

"The city needs more locations and space for future growth for employees," assistant city manager Mike Gustafson said.

Pinellas Park Council members are scheduled to discuss the idea at Tuesday's workshop, 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N. The meeting is open to the public, but comment can be made only with council permission.

Earlier this month, council member Patricia Bailey-Snook asked for the matter to be postponed to give her a chance to scout other potential office and pool sites in the Fairlawn area.

Both City Hall and the Technical Services building have been renovated recently to make room for new employees and departments.

Gustafson said further renovations are scheduled for the Technical Services building, also known as the "anthill" at 6051 78th Ave. N. The work spaces there once surrounded an atrium filled with greenery. The atrium has been replaced with so many employee cubbyholes that the layout resembles a maze for laboratory rats.

The crowding will get worse during the next five years, Gustafson said, as Pinellas Park adds an estimated 78 employees.

The solution, he said, is for the city to buy additional property so some departments can move into a new location.

Staff members have been scouting possible locations for the past few months and think the Metropolitan Hospital site, 7950 and 8000 66th St. N, is perfect.

Gustafson laid out his 10-year vision for the site in a May 3 memo to City Manager Jerry Mudd.

The Community Development and Utility Billing departments would relocate to the 9.44-acre site, allowing for the expansion of the Public Works, Human Resources and Finance departments. The City's Clerk's office and the Management Information Systems (computer) department also could spread out.

For another $2.5-million, Gustafson said Friday, the city would raze the former hospital and build anew. The 15,000-square-foot structure would have a drive-through so residents could drop off payments and pick up occupational licenses and some permits. And there still would be room left for an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Gustafson said the pool's cost is unknown, but Pinellas Park has about $75,000 set aside for it.

Years ago, the city pool was in Fairlawn, an area generally between 66th Street and Belcher Road, from 76th to 88th Avenue N.

"That was back when I was a kid, back many, many moons ago," said council member Rick Butler, 43.

The pool was in "dire need" of repair, Butler said. But rather than repair it, city officials closed the pool and sold the property. They promised Fairlawn residents that they would build another pool and reserved $75,000 from the sale. But nothing happened.

Butler said he sees no ulterior motive in that failure.

"It was very difficult to find a replacement," he said.

The Metropolitan property might solve that, Gustafson said. It also would answer other requests the city has received throughout the years from nearby schools and others who want an Olympic pool to bring swim meets to the city.

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