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Scientology project gets foundation

(ran PS edition of Pasco Times, and SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Workers will spend 18 hours today pouring the concrete base for the Ministerial Training and Counseling Center, which is expected to be the largest building in downtown Clearwater.

A massive foundation will be constructed beginning early this morning for what is expected to be the largest building downtown.

The Church of Scientology and its contractor, Beers Construction Co. of Tampa, have coordinated an 18-hour task that will involve more than 500 construction workers, 130 mixing trucks, 1,200 truckloads of high-strength concrete from six area plants, and 24 off-duty police officers to handle the traffic.

The concrete will be poured continuously over a web of steel reinforcement rods to form a 4-foot-deep "mat" that will cover most of the city block bounded by Fort Harrison Avenue, Franklin Street, S Garden Avenue and Pierce Street.

The foundation will support Scientology's Ministerial Training and Counseling Center at 215 S Fort Harrison Ave., directly east of the church's signature property in Clearwater, the Fort Harrison Hotel. The hotel will be linked to the new building with a walkway over Fort Harrison Avenue.

Although the church staged a glitzy groundbreaking in November and workers have been excavating the site since, the foundation is the largest and most tangible evidence that the long-planned building is under way.

The project has gone through several design changes over the years, and brochures mailed recently to Scientology members indicate the church is still raising money to pay for the $45-million structure.

Work is proceeding under a city permit for the foundation only. Soon, the church is expected to submit final plans for parking, traffic flow and collecting stormwater runoff. A permit for the rest of the building will not be issued until the city reviews those plans.

At 370,000 square feet, the building will be the largest in downtown Clearwater and one of the largest in Pinellas County.

Bob Cloyd, vice president of Beers Construction, said rain today only would help because the concrete needs to be kept cool and wet during the pour.

Three side streets surrounding the site will be closed to traffic today. The pour is scheduled from 4 a.m. to midnight. Police said motorists also could experience some congestion on Court Street as trucks head for the site.

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