On the heels of deep spending cuts, Pinellas County is opening two high-tech emergency response buildings this month.
An 80,000-square-foot operations building will be home to a NASA-style wall of video monitors for traffic control and other services. Nearby, the county will store vehicles in a nearly 11,000-square-foot building.
Both are hardened for hurricanes, and the buildings will house teams of county public works employees and other officials who respond to hurricane damage.
The $30 million project was paid from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax, although lower construction costs saved about $4 million. Voters approved the project in a March 2007 referendum.
Flagging tax revenue has forced other projects to be delayed, but the buildings were a top priority for county officials. The new buildings replace ones that were constructed decades ago.
The complex was first envisioned in 2005, after hurricanes pummeled the state. Pinellas officials realized they weren't prepared enough to respond to storm damage.
"It's a very secure building, a very secure site, that's looking forward to the future," said commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, noting the lack of overruns — or complaints.
The building went up on 7.5 acres near a public works campus off U.S. 19 north of Drew Street in Clearwater — a site with a penchant for flooding.
The county used dredged soil to elevate the operations building to a level expected to flood only once every 500 years. The storage building is elevated to 100-year flood stage. Surrounding areas are lower.
Jorge Quintas, public works operations director, discounted the chance of workers and equipment being marooned. Projects at nearby Alligator Creek have reduced the potential for flooding, he said.
When storms aren't on the horizon, the buildings will have no trouble accommodating workers.
The complex was envisioned at the top of the real estate boom, when county finances were flush and its workforce larger. The buildings are capable of housing a staff of 300, but about 100 employees will call it home on a standard workday.
For 2011, there are expected to be 351 public works jobs — down from 525 in 2005.
The county now has to come up with operating money to run the buildings.
To balance the budget, satellite public works yards will be closed and staffers and equipment moved to the buildings. County officials are still working out logistics, like parking.
Despite the vacancy in the operations building, County Administrator Bob LaSala expressed confidence that it will be effectively used.
The building has brown metal bunk beds, 30 for men and 20 for women. It has generators, water and fuel storage to run for seven days. It has showers, a laundry and a commercial-style kitchen.
The county also used recycled and environmentally friendly materials to meet U.S. Green Building Council standards.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.