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Pasco commissioners agree to build a 'green' storm shelter

DADE CITY — With its new regional hurricane shelter, Pasco County is going green.

The County Commission voted 5-0 on Monday to pay more to have the $7.5-million shelter in Hudson designed and certified as environmentally friendly. All but $53,000 of the additional $360,000 cost can be covered using other money for hurricane protection and landscaping. Cash reserves will pay the rest.

"This is the time to make a statement, especially with the funding we've got from the state," said Commissioner Jack Mariano, who has pressed the county to do more "green building."

But the day wasn't entirely victorious for Mariano, whose district includes the shelter site.

Mariano lobbied for the county to build the shelter 3 1/2 feet taller so basketball and volleyball could be played inside. Federal and state grants will pay for the shelter's construction at Engle Park, but Pasco would have to spend another $350,000 to make the building taller for recreational use.

The 1,000-bed shelter is scheduled to open by January 2010. When storms aren't hitting, a health clinic for the uninsured will operate there. The county might also use the space for large meetings and elderly nutrition programs.

But paying more for playing hoops — or indoor soccer, another idea Mariano floated — pushed most of the commission's limits.

It would mean, as budget director Mike Nurrenbrock dryly noted Monday, dipping into a proposed $3.5-million reserve just hours before the first public hearing on the 2008-09 budget.

So the board rejected the increase 3-2, with Commissioner Pat Mulieri joining Mariano in the dissent. Both said tourism tax money could pay for the extra costs, and tournament revenue could help cover operations. The majority didn't buy it.

Declining tax revenue has prompted the county to stop giving raises and freeze hiring for many jobs — making it hard to justify spending more money for a basketball court, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said.

"How many tournaments can one basketball court bring in?" Commissioner Michael Cox asked shortly before Hildebrand jokingly suggested luring the Harlem Globetrotters.

The shelter will come back for a final vote in two weeks on whether to build to original wind standards or slightly lower ones approved by the Federal government. While the cost would be similar, architect Richard Bekesh said the lower standards could provide more flexibility for design with at least $20,000 in savings. As long as expensive tests aren't needed, commissioners are inclined to go with his recommendation.

David DeCamp can be reached toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

Pasco commissioners agree to build a 'green' storm shelter 09/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 4:32pm]

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