Pinellas County is preparing to build a house to epitomize all things green — down to the $476,000 cost.
It will have solar water heating, a cistern water system, Florida-friendly landscaping and disabled accessible sidewalks built with eco-friendly material.
At $238 a square foot, the house costs more than twice the average price in the county — not that anyone will ever live there.
The home will serve as a model for building homes in an environmentally sustainable way. It will go up by 2013 near the county extension offices near Ulmerton Road in Largo. Residents and home builders are expected to visit it to see "green" building options, mimicking a similar 1994 project in Sarasota and a recent one in Tallahassee.
The County Commission appears ready to approve its construction during a meeting today. However, Commissioner Nancy Bostock questioned the wisdom of building such a project after the parks department has been depleted by budget cuts the past few years.
"It's not a destination or a place for recreation for our citizens," said Bostock, adding, "It definitely sends a mixed message."
But county officials are moving forward with the project, not only because they say it's an important priority. The construction cost, they note, isn't coming from county tax revenue.
The project originated from a 2009 earmark for energy spending by U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, as part of a $1 million request from Pinellas County for "urban sustainability," according to county and federal records.
The project initially failed to get funding, and it changed over the years from a place to showcase hurricane-resistant homes to a green home to show the county's commitment to environmentally friendly building.
The cost has some county officials wondering if the price can come down by the time it's built.
On a contract review document for staffers to review, chief assistant county administrator Mark Woodard noted the $238 per square foot cost.
"Affordability will be important for showing others the advantage of this construction," he wrote.
Campbell and Paul Sacco, the county's director of real estate management, said Pinellas' 2,000-square-foot home is meant to offer more options than a standard house. Most home buyers would pick only some of the amenities.
The model home will include interactive digital education displays, which add to the cost of the home, said Mary Campbell, who oversees the project as the extension service director.
County and extension officials have to match the grant by providing real estate, design and staffing support with the University of Florida.
About seven staffers could teach there, although one associated with the college will be the most prominent employee. Staffers would walk over from nearby offices.
Campbell hopes 5,000 to 10,000 people a year will visit, mainly for training.
Yet the price tag is big enough that County Administrator Bob LaSala acknowledged Monday that "I don't think we could put as much energy into others, or as much effort, without the federal funding."
The county will be responsible for staffing and maintaining the property. Woodard and LaSala said they're satisfied the county can afford to run the home, though they did not have an operational cost estimate.
The home mimics the Florida House in Sarasota, which opened in 1994.
Sarasota's model house was a project between a nonprofit foundation and that county's extension service. The Southwest Florida Water Management District provided an $80,000 grant that was matched by donations from Florida Power and Light, the Sarasota-based Selby Foundation, the National Estuary Program and Home Depot.
If Pinellas commissioners approve the home, Hennessy Construction Services of St. Petersburg would manage the project. Out of 400 companies contacted, only Hennessy submitted a proposal "due to the unique nature of this project," according to a staff memo.
A draft budget includes $55,000 for a construction manager, though the contract is negotiable with the company. Hennessy's work includes the new county public works center in Clearwater that was built environmentally friendly.
In November, the commission voted 6-1 to accept the grant. The lone dissenter, Bostock, prodded staffers over how the county could afford the house after cutting tens of millions of dollars to balance the budget and laying off hundreds.
Told it wouldn't hurt any projects or staffing, Bostock replied, "We didn't cut enough positions then."
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.