DUNEDIN — This fall, the city is getting by with a little help from some graduate students.
The city was accepted into a University of South Florida partnership program to conduct seven studies. The studies, which will cost Dunedin $10,000 each, will be conducted during the university's fall semester as a course for graduate students taught by a faculty member who has expertise in the subject.
The studies range from looking at the city's vulnerability to rising sea levels to best practices for affordable housing. Dunedin will be the second city to take part in the collaboration, Palmetto being the first.
Greg Rice, Dunedin's director of planning and development, said when he found out about the partnership, he knew it would benefit the city.
"We could get an awful lot of great work done for a relatively inexpensive price to help us dramatically," said Rice, who put a team together and submitted 12 proposals to the City Commission to approve before sending it to USF.
The other five projects include: best practices for community engagement; developing historic home preservation ordinances; a corridor study of State Road 580; best practices in business incubators and how the city can prevent its sewage system from overflowing during heavy rainfall.
"We're really feeling good about it," he said. The city is also looking to have additional studies completed during the spring semester.
The partnership will give the city a foundation to work off of as it begins to look at its comprehensive plan.
Lillian C. Wichinsky, director of USF's Office of Community Engagement and Partnership, said the partnership was inspired by the University of Oregon's Sustainable City Year Program, which paired students with a city for a yearlong partnership for a study in their area of discipline.
"The city of Dunedin becomes a co-educator with the university because (students) get the chance to practice what they're learning with faculty to provide expertise," Wichinsky said.
Students at any of its three campuses can participate. Last year, about 300 students participated in studies of Palmetto.
Jeff Burton, director of Palmetto's Community Redevelopment Agency, said having students with a lot of energy who don't mince words when giving reports of the city was helpful.
"They look at things with a fresh set of eyes that you usually don't get from a consultant," said Burton, who added that consultant rates can range from $50,000 to $80,000 for studies that the university's program did for $10,000. In total, he said, the city paid $140,000.
"There's some really good information there that we didn't know about ourselves," he said. "It turned out to be a very positive experience for both parties."
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Wichinsky said Dunedin assigned the city staff to working closely with the office for the program.
"There's a lot of work involved in this, and they have carried it all out to make sure their needs are met," she said.