Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando's Chinsegut, technical education center land state funding

BROOKSVILLE — County business development manager Michael McHugh couldn't be happier with the word this week out of Tallahassee.

Hernando County landed $3 million in state funding for two of McHugh's pet projects: startup funding for an adult technical education program and money to help restore the manor house at Chinsegut Hill, north of Brooksville.

The projects are key to Hernando County's economic and tourist development goals.

"I'm ecstatic,'' McHugh said.

There was some bad news, too. An $8 million stretch of the Coast to Coast Connector to link walking and bike trails across the state, $2 million to develop a broadband network and $750,000 for parking and storm water improvements at Rogers Park on the Weeki Wachee River were eliminated when Gov. Rick Scott released his list of budget vetoes.

But McHugh wasn't focusing on the losses.

"I think Hernando at the end of the day made out incredibly well,'' he said. "Overall, these two things are huge for this county.''

McHugh has been touting the need for an adult technical education program for the last several years. Before the county can attract high-tech companies, there must be a trained workforce, he has argued.

County and school officials have been talking about using Nature Coast Technical High School as the site for the program. There has been concern among some school officials that, given the lean economic times, too much attention on adult programs could take away focus and resources from kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

Having the funds to get the program going "is transformational,'' McHugh said. "It removes a huge barrier.''

The state's allocation is $1.5 million.

Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt said the funding was incredibly important, especially given past financial struggles.

"It's seed money to get this thing going," Blavatt said. "There is no excuse now."

County Commission Chairman Dave Russell was also excited to see the program receive funding.

"This is all about education and economic development, two of the governor's linchpin issues,'' Russell said. "It will support our efforts in developing a well-trained workforce. It's a very well-targeted appropriation.''

The $1.5 million Chinsegut allocation also made sense, Russell said.

"It is a state holding until it's been signed over to Hernando County,'' he said. "It is of historical significance.''

The hope is that the funding will help turn the site back into a conference center and tourist attraction. The property, Russell said, can support a lot of functions.

"We want to get this back into the majestic state that it was,'' McHugh said.

The building "needs help,'' he said, and local volunteers have been overseeing an assessment detailing what is needed.

"The (assessment) map is going to be there ... and the funding is going to be there, too,'' McHugh said.

Christie Anderberg, a member of the Friends of Chinsegut Hill, said that a report detailing what structural and cosmetic improvements need to be made to the 165-year-old landmark will be ready this week.

The state funds will be administered by the Friends group and will go toward bringing the structure up to acceptable standards.

"It's been sitting vacant for so long that there's more needed than just a facelift," Anderberg said. "When we're finished, we want it to be the pride of our community."

The grass roots effort to save the manor house and surrounding property began three years ago after the University of South Florida announced it was no longer interested in operating the facility as a conference center. When several proposed deals that would allow the Friends to sublease the property and operate it as an environmental education center and tourist destination fell through, the group went to the county for help.

Under a proposed five-year lease agreement that will go before the County Commission on Tuesday, the county will designate the Friends as the day-to-day operator of the facility.

Staff Writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434. Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.

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