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Times sells Hernando office building to county Utilities Department

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to spend $4.15 million to purchase the Tampa Bay Times' Hernando office building and consolidate Utilities Department administration, engineering and customer service in a central location.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes said the county has talked for five years about consolidating utilities functions and, with two appraisals on the Times site ranging from $4.25 million to $4.65 million, he was comfortable with the purchase.

The choice before commissioners was whether to spend $3.4 million to construct a 10,000-square-foot building for utilities administration and engineering next to the department's field office on Wiscon Road, make road improvements and improve the facility's fuel farm, or buy the nearby 29,000-square-foot, two-story Times office at Cortez Boulevard and Winter Street, west of Brooksville.

A Utilities Department space-needs study concluded that the purchase of the Times building would reduce costs for the department, which is funded with utility fees rather than property taxes. The purchase will allow the department to move out of both its customer service office in the West Hernando Government Center in Spring Hill and its administrative office building on the south side of Brooksville.

The study also noted that the Times building is centrally located, has excellent road access and is less than a half-mile from the utilities field office. The building sits on nearly 5 acres and includes more than 120 parking spaces.

The Times built and moved into its Hernando Bureau office in 2003. Like other newspapers around the country, the Times has downsized in recent years and no longer needs the large Hernando building. Newspaper officials have said they will find appropriate space to house the Hernando staff.

"We are pleased that the sale has been approved and that the building will continue to be used to serve the community," said Jana L. Jones, chief financial officer of the Times.