Nobody disputes that Pasco County’s Extension Office is in serious need of an upgrade.
But that’s where the consensus ends.
Extension now operates out of space owned by the Pasco County Fair Association, under an annual $17,000 lease, which is currently on a month-to-month basis.
But the office is too small and outdated to meet Extension’s needs.
The county wants to improve conditions for Extension and has been weighing various options.
It held a community stakeholder meeting on Oct. 12 at the Stallings Building, at 15029 14th St., in Dade
The county owns that building and had been leasing it out, but that lease ended and the building is now vacant.
Moving Extension to the Stallings Building is one of the options the county is considering, said Cathy Pearson, an assistant county administrator.
The building, constructed in 1991, is in generally good condition and is immediately available. It would cost an estimated $146,000 to renovate and the project would take about 120 days, Pearson said.
Some advantages are that it has a kitchen and there’s space to do a community garden center.
Another option the county is considering would keep the program at the fairgrounds, with improvements made there.
“We’re on hold right now. We want to look and see what it would cost to do some renovations to that,” Pearson said. “We haven’t had a chance to work those figures out. We want facilities to take a hard look at that in the next month or so and come back with some figures.”
The county doesn’t own the fairgrounds, Pearson said.
The county also considered a third option to move Extension to the county’s old Data Center building, but that option doesn’t appear to be viable, Pearson said.
The building, constructed in 1977, would cost an estimated $606,000 to renovate and would take about a year, Pearson said.
A fourth option would involve a public/private partnership, but none has materialized so far.
“Is there something that we’re not thinking of?” Pearson asked.
County staff needs more time to evaluate the fairgrounds option, Pearson said, noting that it just began exploring that idea earlier in the week.
She estimated it would take about 90 days to evaluate that option and suggested meeting with the stakeholders again after the holidays.
Reaction from the crowd was all over the map.
Some support upgrading the fairgrounds building and keeping Extension there.
Others want the county to move the program to the Stallings Building because it could serve to help lift up a neighborhood where people struggle to provide opportunities for their children.
Some noted potential safety issues, if Extension moves to the Stallings Building.
A comparison of police calls shows that the neighborhood had more than twice as many police calls than the fairgrounds location.
However, some people in the crowd noted that improved trust in law enforcement has led to a greater number of calls, and the Stallings Building is in a more populated area than the fairgrounds, which makes police calls more likely.
Others in the crowd questioned how long it would take to upgrade the fairgrounds, how much it would cost and how Extension would operate in the interim.
A question also was raised about why the county would want to invest taxpayer money in a property not owned by the county.
Other questions included whether the county would continue to pay rent on the fairgrounds property and how the arrangement would affect Extension’s ability to control scheduling and programs.
Whitney Elmore, the director of Extension, said the main goal to expand the programming that’s available.
“Our existing facilities don’t allow us to expand,” she said.
Some speakers suggested relocating Extension temporarily to the Stallings Building, until renovations can be made to the fairgrounds, at which time it would move back.
Others suggested the county consider using both sites.
Margarita Romo, founder of Farmworkers Self-Help, urged the county to move Extension to the Stallings Building and to keep it there. The community’s children need more opportunities, she said.
“Come here, where it’s a challenge,” Romo said. “Take it on.”
LeAnne John, president of the Pasco County Fair Assoc., asked for time to determine whether improvements can be made at the fairgrounds to keep Extension there.
“I grew up with the fair,” said Cindy Waller, John’s mom, and also a former president of the association. “If you want to showcase your Extension Office, what better place?” she asked.
Another meeting with stakeholders is expected after the county has gathered more information.
Published Oct. 19, 2016