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Largo's plans for new City Hall complex closer to reality

High-tech video and broadcast systems, central air conditioning and a garage for police parking and added security are among plans for the new City Hall and Police Department complex at a cost to taxpayers of about $11.6-million.

For residents, the facility will mean one-stop shopping, said Kevin Ratigan, vice president of Architects Design Group, the Winter Park firm designing renovations for the complex.

For more than a year, commissioners have planned the move from old City Hall on First Avenue SW downtown to the Aegon Complex on Highland Avenue. Recently, they began scrutinizing architectural plans for the site.

"It's kind of exciting," Mayor Thomas Feaster said.

The move is part of Largo's ongoing plan to relocate city services and turn downtown into a center of retail and pedestrian activity.

But the change won't be cheap for taxpayers. Although the three buildings that make up the Aegon site are already standing, extensive renovations, design and furniture alone will cost about $7-million. In addition, the city paid $4.6-million to buy the property.

However, Feaster noted, the city will recoup money from the sale or lease of the current Police Department and City Hall properties to developers or business owners.

And, in any case, Feaster says, the renovations are still cheaper than the alternative. For example, he said, "If we would have built this a free-standing police station, it would have cost us 8- or 9-million."

Plans at the Aegon Complex involve a more modern Largo Police Department. A drive-in garage with an adjacent area for processing criminals and evidence will bring Largo up to speed with some other law enforcement agencies in the state, Ratigan said. After 2,000 square feet of additions are constructed, the building will span 43,000 square feet, compared with about 28,000 square feet at the current Police Department.

The building, which is about 15 years old, is currently used by Aegon as a storage area. Renovations will be extensive to ensure security and technology needs for police, Ratigan said.

The largest building on site, about 56,000 square feet, will become City Hall. It was built in 1973. The oldest portion of the current City Hall was built sometime in the 1960s, but additions were added later, said Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert. The current City Hall spans about 36,000 square feet.

The new building will include a central area for permitting, engineering and community development departments so residents don't have to go through different doorways to get from one place to the other.

"You can go to one place and get all those things," Schubert said.

City Commission meeting chambers will boast "state-of-the-art" technology, allowing commissioners and audience members to see designs, graphics and other presentations via video monitors, Ratigan said.

The renovations will turn a portion of the building into somewhat of a broadcast studio, improving the quality of meetings that are broadcast on cable TV, Ratigan said. The design will be similar to County Commission chambers in Clearwater, ensuring that viewers will be able to see and hear meetings more clearly, he said.

The Commission chambers alone will cost about $480,000.

A third smaller building, about 8,300 square feet, will serve as the city's emergency operations center where backup electrical systems will be.

A major cost will be a central air conditioning system, Ratigan said. Aegon's system needs to be replaced, a $1.7-million chunk of the renovation expenses.

Aegon workers will move out of the site this fall and construction is scheduled to begin in October, Ratigan said. City workers should have a new address by fall 1999.