Don't call it a substation.
Such a name conjures images of cops gathering to fill out reports and grab a cup of coffee or a place where a those without a badge might feel uncomfortable. Ditto for the officers, too, for that matter. Substation often translates to not-as-nice as the office where the boss works.
Sheriff Richard Nugent is looking for 1,600 square feet of air-conditioned community congregation space in south Brooksville, a spot where both city officers and county deputies can work. But policing is just one aspect of this building's mission.
There should be computers available for the public, and partnerships with community members to offer mentoring opportunities and after-school tutoring for youngsters and classes for grown-ups on job and parenting skills. It will be open evenings and weekends. With an assist from the Parks and Recreation Department, there will be a toddler park and a lighted basketball court.
It will be highly visible on a heavily traveled street, not tucked away in a place acquired on the cheap. Kids will be able to walk to it and parents will view it as a safe destination for their offspring.
It could be construed as a duplication of the Jerome Brown Center, but that facility's location several miles away amid the neatly manicured fields at Tom Varn Park makes it difficult for the underserved and at-risk children of south Brooksville to reach.
The place Nugent is seeking is about to come to fruition. A half-dozen years after talks began of a new sheriff's substation — there's that word again — in south Brooksville, the county is about to put the building out to bid. That would take 60 to 90 days and afterward construction is anticipated to take four months. If all goes according to plan, it could opening sometime in spring/summer 2009.
Unable to raise large-scale construction money through private donations, the building is about to become a reality because the Sheriff's Office is able to tap money confiscated under drug forfeiture laws. Nugent estimates construction at a half-million-dollars. Operating costs are included in the new county budget that became effective four days ago. The private sector donated architectural and engineering services. The city of Brooksville waived impact fees a couple of years ago.
It will be built upon an empty lot on Martin Luther King Boulevard near the intersection with Union Street. There is a cellular telephone tower in the corner and across the street sits the purple and white building that is the Elk's Club. Its location on the north side of the street puts it inside the city limits.
It will replace the Sheriff's Office Tanglewood and School Street substations. That is smart. The School Street office is too remote to provide a visible crime deterrent within the neighborhood.
"That is one of the complaints of the community groups,'' says Nugent. "Out of sight, out of mind.''
Indeed. Isolated and uninviting are just as accurate. You need to follow the multiple green directional signs to find the place at the south end of School Street. The substation sits amid the cinderblock buildings forming South Brooksville Community Center and Hernando Head Start. It is surrounded by a 6-foot chain link fence with spokes on top — the kind used to affix barbed wire. It is a visual message that says one thing: Stay Out.
No wonder Nugent doesn't want the new place called a substation. He calls it the south Brooksville community office.
Semantics aside, the new building will signal an investment in a community that is the poster child for poverty, crime, government neglect and inefficiency. Oh, there's plenty of "No Trespassing,'' "No Loitering'' and "Crime Watch'' signs in the vicinity. But nearby, the abandoned county Department of Public Works compound remains contaminated three years and $2-million after soil testing started. Calls to clean up the site date back more than a dozen years.
''We're really hoping this will become a community focal point in an area that's really been troubled for a lot of years,'' says Nugent. "Government has basically, in my estimation, thumbed its noses at the south Brooksville area.''
C.T. Bowen can be reached at [email protected] or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6239.