County Commission gets update from director of Capital Projects Department
Calling her presentation a “high-level overview,” Carolyn Eastwood, director of Sarasota County’s Capital Projects Department, recently offered an update on the plans for the new County Administration Center, which will be located at 6700 Fruitville Road.
Although a PowerPoint presentation had been included in the board’s agenda packet for its Aug. 30 regular meeting, Eastwood noted that she had a new rendering of the draft plans for the structure’s first floor.
She reminded the commissioners that the four-floor building will encompass about 120,000 square feet. It will be located on a site that comprises approximately 8 acres, carved out of land that Benderson Development Co. had owned. (On Feb. 23, the board members agreed to swap the company approximately 6.8 acres of county land at Nathan Benderson Park, near University Parkway, in exchange for the Fruitville Road site.)
Near the entryway of the Administration Center, Eastwood showed the commissioners, a security desk will be located, where people who wish to visit an office on an upper floor will need to check in first.
The County Commission Chambers will be on one side of the first floor, she continued, with the Communications Department studio and an anteroom for the board members next to it. Additionally, she said, the Think Tank — where the commissioners typically conduct their budget workshops and meetings with members of other local government boards — will be on the first floor. In the Administration Center standing at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota, the Think Tank is on the third floor.
The fitness center for staff also will be on the ground floor of the new building, Eastwood said.
In response to a question from Commissioner Ron Cutsinger, Eastwood pointed out that restrooms will be provided in the anteroom next to the Commission Chambers.
When Commissioner Nancy Detert asked about the size of the building in downtown Sarasota, Eastwood replied that it is approximately 170,000 square feet. The primary reason the new structure will be smaller, Eastwood noted, is because departments will be relocated from the Administration Center to their own new structures. Among those will be Planning and Development Services, which has offices on the first floor of the building located at 1660 Ringling Blvd.
Planning and Development will move all of its employees to a “One Stop Center” on the county’s Northwest Quad, near the Celery Fields in the eastern part of the County.
Additionally, the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department will be relocating to a new facility at Twin Lakes Park on Clark Road. Nicole Rissler, director of that department, told The Sarasota News Leader in a Sept. 7 email that the design work has just begun for that project; completion of that phase is anticipated in late 2023, she added. Then, construction is expected to take 12 to 16 months, with the opening of the facility anticipated in the spring of 2025.
Therefore, Eastwood explained on Aug. 30, the new Administration Center “doesn’t need to be as big as this building.”
During a May 2021 presentation, Eastwood said the occupants of the new Administration Center — along with the commissioners and administrative staff — would be staff of the Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller, Commission services personnel, the Office of the County Attorney, the Office of Financial Management, Library Administration, and the Communications and Human Resources departments.
Over the past two years, Chair Alan Maio pointed out during the Aug. 30 discussion, the commissioners have approved new office space for about 80% of county staff. “We have workers that sit all day in a 7-by-7-foot cubicle,” he emphasized.
Detert noted, “Our current office is the smallest office that I’ve ever had.” (She served on the Sarasota School Board and in the Florida House and Senate, before she won election to her first commission term in November 2016.)
Maio joked, “There’s no office with my name on it,” adding that he had looked and looked through the draft schematics, prompting laughter.
Maio, who is term-limited, will be leaving the commission in late November, following the Nov. 8 General Election.
“The plan is subject to change,” Eastwood responded, eliciting more laughter from members of the audience.
‘Getting in the weeds’
Commissioner Christian Ziegler acknowledged that he was “getting in the weeds here,” but he asked that the design team make certain that staff members who have to be in the new Commission Chambers during meetings — in the event questions arise for them — can have access to power connections for laptop computers. Then, he continued, those county employees could keep working unless they were needed to answer questions or help members of the public. He characterized the staff members as “a lot of intellectual capital,” noting they often have to spend hours in Chambers when a meeting is in session.
“That’s a big thing for me,” Ziegler said of the power connections.
Eastwood noted that a workroom, where staff members can plug in their computers, is adjacent to the Commission Chambers at 1660 Ringling Blvd.
“While they’re sitting in here,” Ziegler responded, “there’s a lot of dead time.” Therefore, he added, he would suggest that the design for the new Chambers include space for a desk at the back of the room.
“Thank you,” Eastwood told him.
Further, Ziegler voiced concern about the aesthetics of the new building, because it will be near the Celery Fields, which is an internationally known bird-watching destination, even though it was created as a major county stormwater project.
“It will stick out a little bit in that area,” he said of the new structure, telling Eastwood, “Let’s just keep that in mind.”
During the presentation, Maio also emphasized that the county does not construct “Taj Mahals.”
In late 2021, the County Commission formally sold to Benderson Development the land on which the Administration Center sits in downtown Sarasota, plus two adjacent parking lots. The price was $25 million.
Benderson is renting the property to the county for $1 million per year while the new facility is constructed; the building on Fruitville Road is expected to be completed in the summer of 2025.
The primary impetus for constructing a new center is the expense to continue maintaining the building at 1660 Ringling Blvd. Staff estimated a couple of years ago that it would cost $49 million over 20 years to pay for the necessary renovations and maintenance.
Staff has put the expense of constructing the new building in the range of $72 million.