Brooksville City Council looks at options for Public Works facility

City Council members and Leechele Booker, principal of Hernando High School, with the proclamation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 3.

BROOKSVILLE — Take a drive by the city’s Public Works building sometime, and if you’re brave, go inside.

It’s not a nice place for its workers, and City Council members say they know that, which is why they are considering renovating or replacing the facility.

One resident questioned some of the proposed amenities in the highest-cost options, but council members on Jan. 3 seemed to be leaning toward a complete rebuild, despite the higher cost because of the level of service the growing city needs to provide, and to protect its assets from theft and the elements.

Costs would start at $3.496 million for Option One; $1.781 million for Option Three; and $1.135 million for Option Two.

The existing facility has been in existence since the late 1940s, when the Withlacoochee River Electrical Co-Op used it, and the city bought the facility in 1988. It houses the Water, Sewer, and Sanitation departments.

Alan Garmin of ProCivil 360 was contracted to look at the situation, offer options and an estimated price tag for each one. Because of inflation and the higher cost of building materials, the cost estimates are probably low, he said, and noted that the facility might hide issues that could drive the costs even higher, especially for a total rebuild.

“It’s a total mess,” Garmin said.

Environmental issues surrounding the building and the city’s property around it could make any decision expensive.

The least expensive option, No. 2, would involve remodeling the existing facilities and no new construction. “Building codes require an existing building to be brought into compliance with current codes if 50% of the building value is added, or remodeled,” the presentation noted. “This is mentioned due to antiquated plumbing, electrical and HVAC.”

The main building in the north end is unserviceable, Garmin wrote, and the other buildings have detrimental characteristics.

Repair facilities are in some cases open to the air, and expensive tools have to be left outside because the city’s garbage trucks cannot fit inside the repair bays and maintenance must be conducted in near-open air.

In Option Three, the main unserviceable building would be demolished, but the warehouse in the rear, which is not climate-controlled, would remain. A new 7,500-square-foot building north of the existing facility would be built.

The first option — and the most expensive — would propose a new site plan, remodeling and repairing existing offices and Fleet buildings and build a smaller version of the offices on the vacant land to the north. The existing building would be demolished and a 30,000-square foot building constructed.

Amenities would include a multipurpose room, locker room for employees and other facilities to improve the work environment.

This is a preliminary plan, Garmin and the council emphasized, and details are still to be worked out.

The cost worried council member Betty Erhard.

“Where’s the money going to come from?” she asked. “That’s what we need to discuss.”

The city must make decisions, City Manager Ron Snowberger said.

“This facility houses all of your enterprise funds. To neglect an area that brings money into the city may not be a good idea.”

The city’s staff at the facility are working in “deplorable” conditions, he added, and every city in the country has to make decisions like this.

Not only is the current facility not big enough, Snowberger said, it’s more than 75 years old, it’s getting older, it’s had a roof collapse, and had a bad interior leak.

There are funding mechanisms that might be accessible, he said, but the city will never be able to build a new facility for this cost again.

“Everything is going up and I can’t see hitting our residents with more increases,” Erhard contended.

But council member Robert Battista said he liked Option One, noting that if the city could spend $700,000 on a softball field, it could spend on this, and everyone would benefit.

The thing is, noted Mayor Pat Brayton, they could spend the money — even if surprises they find during demolition drive the price higher – on Option One and get a building that will last 50 years, even if they have to take out a 10-year loan.

He said that the decision to build City Hall was questioned at the time, and the city has a building it can be proud of, plus it leased a floor to the county, which paid off the building loan.

Garmin said that they don’t know what’s under the street, and the old building had asbestos in it. There could even be fuel tanks down there. The buildings all need fire coverage and upgrades.

Council member David Bailey said that if the city completely demolishes the building, it would have to see if the ground is contaminated, and how bad the contamination is and what can be done about it.

Public Works Director Paul Booth said a contaminated area could be “encapsulated” and used for city fleet parking.

The council batted around various options for funding, considering that interest rates could be going up.

“I would like to see us come back and see if we can get $3.5 million for 10 years,” Brayton said. Vice Mayor Blake Bell said they might be able to go for 20 years, but Brayton said he didn’t think a bank would go for that. Bell replied that maybe a bank would do 15 years.

Bailey proposed getting a government building assistance grant, but Snowberger said unless a project is “shovel-ready” it’s hard to land one, and they are definitely not at that stage.

In other action

• The council approved a proclamation recognizing Monday, Jan. 17, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and voted 5-0 to approve a sponsorship credit request of $935.12 for MLK Brooksville Inc. to hold a parade at 10 a.m. that day.

• The council approved 5-0 the first reading of an ordinance to update the city’s code to match the state’s Florida Building Codes and eliminate duplication. The council also voted to update the city’s property maintenance codes. A second and final reading for both will be held Feb. 7.

• The council held its first public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant Citizen Advisory Task Force project recommendation. The city is considering applying for one or more Small Cities Community Development Block Grants for up to $750,000 in the Regular (Neighborhood or Housing or Commercial) Category and in the Economic Development Category for up to $1.5 million or more.

• The council approved 5-0 rescinding automatic increases on sanitation and solid waste services.

Photo by VINCENT F. SAFUTO

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City Council members and Leechele Booker, principal of Hernando High School, with the proclamation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 3.