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Pinellas scraps plans to build green home, citing cost concerns

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners, increasingly uneasy over spending, halted a plan to build a $475,750 home to showcase the latest green technologies.

In a 3-3 vote, the board rejected a $50,000 contract Tuesday with Hennessy Construction Services of St. Petersburg to oversee building the 2,000-square-foot model home. Because there was no majority, the measure failed.

The cost of the environmentally friendly house, which would have been built near the county extension office in Largo, gave commissioners pause.

"$475,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house is just too much," said Commissioner John Morroni.

The project might live on yet because St. Petersburg College is interested in building the house at its Seminole campus.

The home is meant to show residents and builders how environmentally friendly equipment and design works. The federal government would cover its $475,750 cost via a 2009 earmark by U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.

About $125,000 of the cost is for displays and equipment — providing more amenities than a typical home would use.

Commissioner Norm Roche called the project worthwhile, saying it would better inform the county about which options work.

To get the federal money, however, Pinellas had to provide $475,750 worth of services, such as staffing and programs at the house. The county also would be on the hook for future upgrades and maintenance.

The location, tucked at Heritage Village, also bothered Morroni and other commissioners.

To stop the project, Neil Brickfield joined Morroni and Nancy Bostock in voting against it. They capitalized on Commissioner Karen Seel's absence on a normally uneventful vote.

Seel, who like Brickfield had voted twice for the project, attended a Leadership Pinellas event in Tallahassee Tuesday. Though worried about costs, Seel said by phone later that she didn't know whether she would have voted for the contract.

"I think this ends up being a win-win," Seel said, adding she urged county officials last week to pursue SPC's involvement.

Brickfield and Bostock said they didn't intentionally use Seel's absence to use a deadlocked vote to defeat the project.

After the vote, commissioners told County Administrator Bob LaSala to work with the college.

LaSala cast Tuesday's vote as a chance for a partnership and not a defeat, saying the board might revisit building the house if SPC backs off.

The home dovetails with SPC programs to potentially make it an excellent fit, said Seminole campus provost Jim Olliver.

The college offers environmental technology and engineering classes. It has land at its Seminole campus, which recently added a wildlife habitat area and has energy efficient buildings.

In fact, state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, a SPC vice president, spoke with LaSala about moving the project to the Seminole campus, e-mail shows. Following the commission's narrow approval of the project in October 2010, LaSala ordered staffers to hear out SPC's ideas.

The college's trustees have not addressed the project, so they would need to review the costs too. The college also would need approval from the U.S. Energy Department to rework the funding,

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas scraps plans to build green home, citing cost concerns 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 9:22pm]
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