Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

The Arc Nature Coast's new education center and hurricane shelter in Spring Hill celebrates its opening

Beth O’Brien, 47, left, and her mom, Pat, right, look over the Founders Square Monument for their names as donors after it was unveiled Friday at the Arc Nature Coast’s Education Center and Regional Evacuation Shelter in Spring Hill.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Beth O’Brien, 47, left, and her mom, Pat, right, look over the Founders Square Monument for their names as donors after it was unveiled Friday at the Arc Nature Coast’s Education Center and Regional Evacuation Shelter in Spring Hill.

Standing among a dozen or so developmentally disabled clients served by Arc Nature Coast, Beth O'Brien shouted to her mother across the courtyard.

"Mom, I'm with my friends!" O'Brien yelled, her flowered dress billowing in a light breeze.

The 47-year-old, herself an Arc client and volunteer, didn't want her mom, Pat, to lose track of her among the 200 people gathered Friday to celebrate Arc's new home on Partridge Street, just off Mariner Boulevard.

The crowd included political notables, but the focus was on O'Brien, her friends and the four-year collaborative effort that made the $1.9 million education center and special-needs hurricane shelter a reality.

"Our one goal was to do this project right, for our customers and for the community, but it took people to do that, and I believe we've achieved success," executive director Mark Barry said before helping unwrap the centerpiece of the Founders Courtyard — a massive, cube-shaped granite monument engraved with the names of people who donated at least $1,000.

A few minutes earlier, Barry squeezed his eyes shut and tilted his face toward the sky when Kathleen Lonergan, the president of Arc's board of directors, made a surprise announcement that was news even to him: The board had voted to name the facility the Mark W. Barry Education Center and Regional Evacuation Shelter.

The 8,500-square-foot center is designed for Arc's mission to help clients blossom into well-rounded, contributing members of society. That means help with etiquette, job skills, health, culture and technology. The higher-functioning clients eventually find jobs in the community.

Off the cavernous main hall are a media center, an art studio and a fully equipped fitness room. A commercial kitchen offers an amenity-laden place for cooking classes.

But when a hurricane threatens, the center will be a refuge for disabled evacuees and their caregivers from Hernando, Pasco, Citrus and Sumter counties. While Hernando County has shelter space for the medically needy, this center is designed to serve mentally disabled residents.

The capacity is 300 people, and there is enough food, water and diesel fuel for the generator on site to run for three days. The building can withstand winds of more than 150 mph.

Arc was founded in 1972 by a small group of people concerned about the lack of services for disabled people in the area. For years, it operated out of its original home, a rural but aging oasis on Neff Lake Road east of Brooksville. Arc later leased space in a storefront on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.

The storefront has been closed, but the Brooksville site will remain open for offices and to provide recreational services for clients. Arc also has merged with Artists Gardens & Stable in Masaryktown, where clients ride horseback and help run the farm.

State Sen. Mike Fasano visited Arc's facilities in 2007. The next year, the Legislature approved $1.14 million for the project. The County Commission chipped in the roughly 6-acre site a mile south of State Road 50.

Local contractor Greg Jarque donated his services for the project. Jarque became the source of controversy recently after he was hired without a bid to oversee the county's Hernando Beach dredge project and then fired after questions arose about his criminal background. On Friday, the crowd gave Jarque a round of applause when Barry mentioned him as one of the key people who helped bring the project to fruition.

Arc is working to finish off a $400,000 capital campaign to help pay off the center. Donors can buy engraved pavers in the courtyard or, for a larger gift, have their name etched on other parts of the building.

Donations also will help keep the center running. Arc receives no state or federal dollars to bolster its $3 million operating budget.

A lover of technology, Beth O'Brien spent much of Friday's celebration in the media center. She started receiving Arc services about 15 years ago and now helps as a volunteer. She credits the organization for connecting her with friends and getting her closer to her dream.

"My goal is being on my own someday," she said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

On the Web

To find out more about Arc Nature Coast, visit thearc-naturecoast.org.

The Arc Nature Coast's new education center and hurricane shelter in Spring Hill celebrates its opening 05/13/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 13, 2011 7:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Danny Rolling killed five in Gainesville 27 years ago this week

    Criminal

    The following story appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on October 26, 2006, the day after Danny Rollings was put to death. Also included are photos covering the period from the time of the murders to the day of Rollings execution.

    Rolling Executed

  2. Hernando commissioners propose tax-rate reduction as budget talks continue

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The typical budget battle between the Hernando County Commission and Sheriff Al Nienhuis has largely been averted this summer, except for a dust-up over how the sheriff has accounted for federal inmate money. But a minor skirmish did break out this week.

    Hernando County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes has suggested a small rollback in the proposed property tax rate for the 2017-18 fiscal year and proposes that it be equally shared by the county's operations and the sheriff.
  3. Trigaux: As Florida seeks top 10 status as best business state, red flag rises on workforce

    Business

    In the eternal quest to appeal more to business than other states, Florida's managed to haul itself out of some pretty mediocre years. After scoring an impressive 8 among 50 states way back in 2007, Florida suffered horribly during and immediately after the recession. Its rank sank as low as No. 30 only four years ago, …

    Florida's trying to make strides in preparing its high school and college graduates for the rapidly changing skill sets of today's workforce. But the latest CNBC ranking of the best and worst states for business gave Florida poor marks for education, ranking No. 40 (tied with South Carolina for education) among the 50 states. Still, Florida ranked No. 12 overall in the best business states annual ranking. [Alan Berner/Seattle Times]
  4. Florida: White man who killed black person to be executed

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with help of a drug that has never been used previously in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]
  5. Ex-TPD sergeant LaJoyce Houston takes plea deal in stolen tax refund case

    Criminal

    TAMPA — LaJoyce Houston, a former Tampa police sergeant accused with her husband in a federal tax refund fraud scheme, has agreed to plead guilty to receiving stolen government property, court records state.

    Former Tampa police officers Eric and LaJoyce Houston walk into the Sam Gibbons U.S. District Courthouse on Oct. 28, 2015, to face charges relating to stolen identity tax refund fraud. [SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES
 ]