NEW PORT RICHEY
The Red Apple Adult Training Center is doing something rare for a nonprofit in a tough economic climate: It's expanding. The center, which provides education and life-skills training for developmentally disabled adults, plans to expand its location at 6527 Jefferson St., according to executive director Steve Giammichele.
The 2,300-square-foot expansion will provide clients with a wheelchair-accessible classroom to accommodate up to 25 new students and five to eight more instructors, Giammichele said.
With funding tight for any nonprofit, he said, the expansion is a risk — but one he is confident will be successful.
"I'm a gambler. I believe in pursuing your dreams," Giammichele said from his office at Red Apple's Kentucky Avenue headquarters.
Red Apple opened in 1996 with six students and three employees. Now it has 130 students and 43 employees. The school's service motto: "We refuse no one."
Red Apple serves clients from North Pinellas and throughout Pasco. Last year the center put 327,000 miles on its fleet of vans that shuttle clients to and from class.
Giammichele, 61, a former Marine and juvenile justice behavior specialist, praised his staff of instructors for their dedication. It can be a challenging atmosphere, he said.
"If you're not coming from here," he said, tapping his chest over his heart, "you're not going to make it."
Giammichele said it has been a long — and at times, frustrating — process to get the expansion plans up and running. The biggest challenge, he said, was to obtain a rezoning from the city, which he did not expect to have to do.
On Tuesday evening, the New Port Richey City Council rezoned the Jefferson Street site from residential to residential/office and approved a special exception for the school to operate.
Giammichele said he was shocked to learn from the city that the property even needed to be rezoned, as the school had been operating there for years. Red Apple initially rented its Jefferson facility from First United Methodist Church, which had a special exception to run a church and small school on the site.
Red Apple operated under that exception until it brought the property in 2010. That's when Red Apple needed a rezoning to continue using the site for its program, but the city didn't know the property had changed hands until recently, when Giammichele sought permits for the expansion, said New Port Richey Zoning Coordinator John Stansbury.
Giammichele said the city's stance that the property needed to be rezoned was a costly one for Red Apple. He estimated he has paid $41,000 for engineers, surveys, and attorneys associated with the rezoning. In all, the expansion will cost Red Apple around $200,000.
"It's been a lot of work," he said. "But I'm going to do what I have to do for this population."
The expansion plans received praise from the City Council, and Stansbury said he too is excited about the project.
"Everything is moving forward positive," he said. "Everything looks good and they're definitely good neighbors."