Saturday, October 20, 2018
News Roundup

Administrator offers plan for Hernando County space needs

BROOKSVILLE — Satisfying office space needs in the Hernando County Government Center has been a topic of debate for as long as many employees can remember. A seemingly-simple solution was pitched Tuesday, but put on hold for further study.

That solution centered on the Pinebrook Medical Center on Cortez Boulevard just west of the Suncoast Parkway. The building and property belongs to Hernando County, but is leased by Bayfront Health Brooksville. Among the tenants is a Veterans Administration clinic.

Hospital officials approached the county to break the lease months ago which would have made room for county staff there. But delays in clearing the facility led to yet another incarnation of a space-needs solution.

County administrator Len Sossamon was set on Tuesday to present the County Commission with a proposal to build a $13 million government building on the Pinebrook property behind the existing structure. His plan would have moved the county’s constitutional officers — the Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Supervisor of Elections — into the new building.

Until the building was completed, Sossamon proposed leasing the second floor of the SunTrust building at Jefferson and Main streets in downtown Brooksville for the Property Appraiser.

But at the request of Commissioner Wayne Dukes and with the agreement of other commissioners, the proposal was pulled from Tuesday’s agenda. It now will be discussed at the end of the commission’s regular meeting January 23.

"This is a big deal,’’ Dukes said, noting it would take time to talk about all the ideas.

Steve Champion, who was elected Tuesday as commission chairman for 2018, said he had questions about where the county would find funding for a new building and about other details of Sossamon’s plan. Champion said Brooksville officials were concerned about pulling county constitutional officers out of the city just as Brooksville is trying to promote its downtown area.

Recently, the county also received several offers for its former utilities administration office on the State Road 50 truck route, and is conducting appraisals. The county could decide to sell that building or keep it and move staff there.

For more than a decade, the county has struggled with space needs and talked about solutions ranging from shuffling offices around to building a new courthouse. The impetus for the latter came from Hernando County judges, who argue that they need more space, specifically for courtrooms.

That request has been controversial over the years.

Also controversial has been discussion of moving county offices into the SunTrust building. Several times, the county has discussed purchasing the building.

SunTrust’s long-time executive, Jim Kimbrough, is one of the most politically influential business leaders in the county. He has supporters, as well as those who argue that the county shouldn’t buy into the building.

The building’s condition has raised red flags with the county facilities staff, but the latest discussion was about leasing space rather than buying the building.

More immediately, departments on the judicial side of the Government Center, including the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the state attorney’s office, the public defender’s office and the guardian ad litem office, have sought more room. They want to avoid having records piled in hallways and stored in less-than-secure places, and to prevent conducting sensitive interviews in public spaces.

Several county departments, including Health and Human Services and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, have moved to other county facilities in recent months to free up space in the Government Center.

As county officials zeroed in on the Pinebrook building late last year, they ran into two significant timing issues. In October, several physicians there asked the County Commission for more time to find new office space and for more financial support. Commissioners agreed to allow staff to negotiate with the doctors.

At about the same time, the Veterans Administration announced its plans for a new, free-standing clinic in Hernando County. Finding a location and building a clinic could take a couple of years.

The plan, according to officials, is for a clinic four times the size of the 10,000-square-foot Pinebrook location.

Hernando County continues to negotiate with Bayfront Health Brooksville over the existing building, according to Jeff Rogers, deputy county administrator.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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