Largo plans to borrow for new community center

This architectural rendering shows the view from the lobby of the new center looking south.  Windows will overlook lush gardens.

Special to the Times

This architectural rendering shows the view from the lobby of the new center looking south. Windows will overlook lush gardens.

If everything goes according to plan, Largo may have a new community center by the end of next year.

Next month, the city hopes to break ground on the $10.5 million center on Alternate Keene Road. The 30,000-square-foot complex will replace the current 20,000-square-foot center at 65 Fourth St. NW.

After a heated debate at Tuesday night's meeting, city commissioners gave initial approval to borrow money for construction.

Largo plans to repay the loan over the next decade with Penny for Pinellas revenues.

But that prospect was a hard to swallow for Commissioners Curtis Holmes and Mary Gray Black.

Black said she first supported the new center because land was donated for the project.

But, she added, "I did not envision that we were going to have to borrow money to build it."

Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert told commissioners that if the city waited, building costs could increase more than the projected $2 million in interest on the loan.

Holmes questioned Schubert's rationale, saying the timing of the project "is absolutely terrible."

"I love the project. The dollars scare me to death," Holmes said.

Both Holmes and Black quizzed Kim Adams, the city's finance director, about upcoming projects and Penny for Pinellas funds.

A couple of commissioners expressed frustration over Black's line of questioning.

"We're not here to talk about the (local option sales tax) fund," Commissioner Harriet Crozier said. "We're here to talk about this particular item."

As Black's query continued, Mayor Pat Gerard broke in: "If you don't want to borrow money to construct the community center, you vote against this. This is not the time to be rethinking the whole (capital improvements program) plan."

A final decision on borrowing will come before the City Commission on Dec. 1.

At last week's work session, city leaders got an update on the design of the center, which will be located at 400 Alternate Keene Road, north of East Bay Drive and east of Lake Avenue NE near the Palms of Largo campus.

The new center will be "green" in more ways than one.

Outside, the center will have gardens and walking trails.

Inside, the complex, which will be built according to environmentally friendly standards, lots of windows will afford a view of the lush landscaping.

"We knew we couldn't bring all of the trees inside, but we thought that this way there could be a seamless transition between the inside and outside," said Jason Jensen, of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, which is designing the project.

Largo plans to borrow for new community center 11/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 9:57pm]

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