BROOKSVILLE — In the warm morning sun, 86-year-old Earle Jackson was strolling outside his new home behind his rolling walker.
Still in physical therapy from a recent car crash, Jackson was hoping he'd soon get his old wheels back and be cleared to drive again. But for the time being, he had plenty to keep him busy — pizza parties, a fast Internet connection in the computer room and, of course, his new apartment at Magnolia Gardens.
Jackson is, as he calls it, resident number 10 of the new complex off Barnett Road east of U.S. 41.
"I just love it here,'' he said. "I had no idea there were places like this for me. What a help it is.''
Living off his Social Security, he said, "I'm not destitute'' but having a new, affordable apartment had lit up his world. "I appreciate this beyond words,'' he said.
On Thursday morning, he told Donald Singer he would give back to the place like he has given back to Hernando County as a volunteer for years.
"We're glad you're here,'' replied Singer, the executive director of the Hernando County Housing Authority, the owner of Magnolia Gardens.
The formal ribbon cutting for the three-story, 60-unit senior apartment complex is at 2 p.m. Thursday. The $10 million project is the first affordable housing project completed by the county's housing authority. It is a public-private partnership between the housing authority, developer NRP Group and Bank of America that has been three years in the making.
When that ribbon is cut during the ceremony, Magnolia Gardens, the housing authority, and local water management district officials will also have one more reason for celebration.
Magnolia Gardens will be awarded the Florida Water Star designation, the first community in the state to earn that honor for its focused use of water- and energy-saving features. Up until now, the Water Star designation has been given just to residences and to businesses.
The grounds have been landscaped with saving water in mind.
The community is under a water use budget and cannot exceed 20 inches of irrigation per square foot per year. That is not much considering some people apply an inch per week to their lawns and landscape, said Susan Douglas, Florida water state program coordinator for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
A landscape architect helped make the plant selections and coordinated with an irrigation design expert, Douglas explained.
The water and energy savings continue throughout the inside of the structure with energy-efficient and water-saving appliances, Energy Star light bulbs, ceiling fans, high-efficiency toilets and low-flow faucets and shower heads.
Indoors alone, those kinds of measures will save 20 percent of the cost of water and also cut sewer bills, which are based on water usage, Douglas said.
Keeping the cost of utilities down keeps down the rental costs, explained Lisa Evers, community manager.
The development is designed for east Hernando low and extremely low income residents age 55 or older. Six of the units are for single seniors who have a gross income of $13,860 or less or couples who earn $15,820 or less. Those units are already full.
The remaining units are limited to single residents earning $23,760 or less per year and couples earning $27,120 or less per year.
Rents range from $324 to $635 per month. One-bedroom, one-bath, 658-square-foot, and two-bedroom, two-bath, 908-square-foot units are available in the 75,000-square-foot building.
Common areas are scattered throughout the facility starting with a lounge area at the entrance where residents pick up their mail and can gather in front of a fireplace to socialize or wait for guests.
A nearby community room offers additional seating and a full kitchen for future community events. Scattered throughout the building's gathering areas are five 55-inch flat-screen televisions. Other facilities include a gym, complete with exercise equipment, a computer room, an activity room that will also be used as a library, and a patio area out back.
In the outdoor area, built-in grills are in place and the surrounding wall has been designed as a planting area so that residents can do some gardening, growing herbs or vegetables. A bocce court and shuffleboard court are also available.
Red brick outside, dark wood furniture on the inside, arches and columns are some of the design features of Magnolia Gardens. Singer said he thought all of that had come together nicely.
"We were trying to keep with the Brooksville, old South look to it,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.