Pasco County is on the move.
With the slice of ceremonial scissors, county officials cut the ribbon on the new 50,000-square-foot Utilities Administration Building, located at 19420 Central Boulevard, off U.S. 41.
On June 19, more than 200 employees in the utilities department will move from New Port Richey to Land O’ Lakes. And, the facility is scheduled to open to the public on June 23. The hours will be Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The cross-county move recognizes the accelerating growth in the northern and eastern areas of Pasco, with State Road 54 and State Road 56 prime targets for residential and commercial development.
New housing construction is also heating up on U.S. 41, in the vicinity of the new utilities building.
“We’re trying to get closer to the new customers,” said County Administrator Michele Baker. “We have got to move more of our services. This building is the beginning of trying to provide more services closer to where people are.”
The county utility department provides water and sewer services and reclaimed water as well as solid waste, recycling and hazardous waste disposal.
About 30 people attended the ribbon cutting including Baker, Chairman Ted Schrader, Commissioners Kathryn Starkey and Mike Moore and former County Administrator John Gallagher. Representatives of the architectural firm FleischmanGarcia and contractors Construction Technology Group also attended.
The two-story building has a soaring atrium in the lobby, a customer service center on the first floor, a drive-thru window, conference rooms, a training room and offices for the utilities service staff members.
The facility will be a backup location for the county’s emergency operations center.
A national review panel also certified that the building meets Silver LEED standards based on its energy efficiency and environmental design.
Schrader described the grand opening as a historic occasion.
“Pasco is typically a thrifty county,” he said.
But more than a decade ago, it was clear to some in Pasco government that change was on the way.
“They knew Pasco was going to be exploding,” he said. “It’s an outwardly beautiful building that will stand the test of time and be here for a long time.”
Business owners and residents in Land O’ Lakes see long-range benefits to the area.
“We’re obviously very proud of our community,” said Mary Lynn Gorsline, incoming president of the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce. “It will help spur growth we’re looking for, positive growth.”
New restaurants or gift shops are potential new businesses that could come to the northern end of State Road 54.
“It will start to change the northern area of Land O’ Lakes,” she said.
There also are other business-related benefits as well.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Terri Dusek, the honorary mayor of Land O’ Lakes. “As a Realtor, it’s going to make it more convenient for buyers and sellers to change over utilities. The centralized part of it is exceptional.”
The vision for the facility emerged in 2003 and was ready to go five years later. But, by then, construction costs were off the chart, said Bruce Kennedy, assistant county administrator for the Utilities Service Branch.
That coincided with a flattened economy and a slow recovery.
It wasn’t until 2012, when the Pasco County Commission could set aside about $9 million for construction.
A groundbreaking happened in 2014.
While most employees will transfer to the Land O’ Lakes office, Kennedy said a small number of customer service representatives will remain in New Port Richey. They will serve mainly walk-in customers, he said.
An office also is maintained in Dade City.
It’s not clear how many walk-in customers will frequent the new facility.
“It’s going to be interesting what that demand is,” said Kennedy.
The county is encouraging more customers to conduct business online. Kennedy said that would include signing up for new service or disconnecting existing service. “We’re trying to automate these things.”
For about 20 to 30 employees who live in and around New Port Richey, the longer distance to work is an issue. But Kennedy said the county is exploring options to provide some kind of carpooling or ride share.
And, he said some employees transferred to job openings in other departments closer to home.
The department essentially ran out of room nearly a decade ago due to staff growth, Kennedy said. Some employees were deployed to different locations, but he said, “This allows us to get our group of people back together to work on a day-to-day basis. This gives us a central location. It’s a big benefit.”
Published June 10, 2015