Monday, May 21, 2018
News Roundup

Nonprofit takes reins of Lacoochee community center project

Worried about delays, a nonprofit redevelopment group has taken over much of the construction of the planned community center in Lacoochee's Stanley Park.

The Lacoochee Area Redevelopment Corp. released a request for proposals this week for contractors to build the 16,000-square-foot building that will be the centerpiece of one of Pasco's poorest communities. Many involved in the effort to revitalize the area say the new center will be a tangible sign of progress for residents.

The nonprofit would oversee construction of the building's shell, as well as many of the interior rooms. It would build the indoor basketball court, sheriff's substation, athletic equipment storage area, kitchen and concession stand. The county plans to offer a separate bid using its $300,000 contribution to build a stage, computer lab and other offices. It would also build an outdoor pavilion.

"It allows us to be much more nimble than the county," said David Lambert, a Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative executive who is also a member of the redevelopment group. The group will pay for its portion of the building using a $1 million state grant and $550,000 in private donations.

Lambert said the group will use a "design-build" process that will accelerate construction. He said the move would also save about $150,000. He said the county "has been very helpful" in getting the project off the ground and said the group has been working "hand in hand" with county officials on the building's details.

Lambert said he hopes to receive final bids from construction firms by mid February and begin final design work by the end of that month. Crews could start turning dirt by the end of March. The center could open by late fall.

"We think everything is going to move along pretty quickly, he said.

Once a thriving community on a major railroad line in northeast Pasco, Lacoochee never really recovered after the Cummer Cypress Co. sawmill closed in 1959. The community gained prominence after the 2003 shooting death of sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison, killed while on patrol near a nightclub. Efforts to improve Lacoochee have only gained traction in recent years.

The building would be owned and operated by the nonprofit redevelopment group. It holds a long-term lease on 2.4 acres just north of the football field in county-owned Stanley Park. The lease agreement allows the group to use the property for an annual sum of $1 for 50 years. There is an automatic renewal for another 50 years.

The building's primary tenant will be the Lewis Abraham Boys & Girls Club. The larger space would replace an aging building in a nearby public housing complex and would allow the group to serve 100 children instead of 70. Besides a boost to community pride, the building would also house key social services.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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