The Pasco County Fair Association is seeking a state grant to help pay for a $1.1 million upgrade of the Pasco County Extension Office.
The Extension Office — which is supported by state and county funding — now leases space from the fair association.
But, the facility needs improvements and more space to expand its services.
The state grant could address both needs.
The Pasco County Commission, on Jan. 24, gave the fair association the go-ahead to seek a state grant to help cover the costs.
The state grant requires a 40 percent match. So, the county has agreed to provide about $243,000, and the fair association would cover about $197,000, if the grant is approved.
The fair association would be in charge of completing the project, which will include securing contractors and obtaining county permits.
While the fair association and members of the community are on the same page now, that wasn’t the case during an October stakeholders meeting.
At that point, the county was considering options that included moving Extension to the Stallings Building, at 15029 14th St., in Dade City, leaving it at the fairgrounds or finding another location.
Those supporting the fairgrounds’ location said Extension should stay because its activities are closely aligned to those of the Pasco County Fair. But, those supporting the Stallings Building said the community living near there need the additional programs that Extension could bring to the area.
“From that last meeting in October, we really learned a lot from the whole community,” Cathy Pearson, assistant county administrator for public services said, at a Jan. 19 follow-up stakeholder meeting.
“It opened our eyes to what that community really needs. There’s a need in both places,” Pearson said.
“So, we had the opportunity in the last 60 days to meet with the Pasco County Fair board, and really voice our concerns about the building, and stuff that needs to be improved here.
“We also talked about operations.
“You know what? They really listened. They really did,” Pearson said.
If the grant is approved, Extension would move temporarily to the Stallings Building.
The county also will work with the community to develop a business initiative, Pearson said.
“What kind of community programs can we put in there?” she said. “We have until March 6 to work on our plan,” Pearson said.
If the state grant is approved, there would be more meeting space, more classroom space, a renovated kitchen, a new greenhouse, upgraded parking and other improvements, said Whitney C. Elmore, the Extension director.
She said she based her renovation plan on information she gleaned from other Extension directors around the state.
More meeting space is critical to enable Extension to expand its programs, Elmore said.
An updated kitchen also is needed to offer classes that are in demand, but can’t be provided because of inadequate facilities and equipment, she said.
Enhanced office space, a reception area and other improvements also would be completed in the proposed project. The overall space would increase from roughly 3,000 square feet now to more than 5,200 square feet, once the improvements are done.
The fair association should find out in May or June whether the grant has been approved.
If it doesn’t come through, the county and fair association will work together to see what can be done with the approximately $440,000 that’s available, Pearson said.
But, Pearson added: “We’re going to be optimistic, though, we know we’re going to get the grant. That’s what we’re going to think.”
Margarita Romo, who spoke passionately at the October meeting about providing more services to the community near the Stallings Building, said she’s thrilled about the direction the fair association and county are taking.
“I’m just very excited,” Romo said. “Everybody is going to have what they need.
“We want the master gardeners to be happy. We want them to come and help us to learn how to do things better than we did in the past.
“Most important is the children,” Romo said. “All of those children make up Dade City, too. It would be wonderful to be able to interact with each other, to see that the county cares about us, the Extension Office cares about us, that all of the master gardeners care about us.
“Then, we could begin to close that gap because you know we’ve all been so separated in different ways. And, it’s time to come together,” Romo said.
Published February 1, 2017