Saying they felt new developments on April 24 dictated a face-to-face dialogue between staff and the owner of property proposed for the county’s new Emergency Operations Center, the Sarasota County Commissioners deferred until May 8 a vote on the site for the facility.
Commissioner Carolyn Mason made the motion, which passed unanimously, to direct County Administrator Randall Reid and staff to make one more effort to discuss price and other factors regarding property at 7060 Professional Parkway, which the board was considering as an alternative to a county parcel at 1301 Cattlemen Road.
Mason referenced an email the commissioners had received April 23 from Andrew Stultz, a representative of Jack Cox, owner of Halfacre Construction Co. as well as the Professional Parkway property.
Stultz appeared before the board at the start of the commission’s afternoon session April 24 to reiterate points he had made in the email, including the fact that Cox was willing to reduce the price from $6.5 million to $5.5 million.
A staff report showed the EOC could be built on the Cattlemen property for $13.9 million, compared to $17.5 million for the Professional Parkway site. Those estimates did not take into account that $1 million reduction.
However, staff told the commissioners that, if they selected the Professional Parkway location, the county would lose $1.3 million in two grants already awarded to the county for the EOC.
Reid told Mason, “My staff and I could have these discussions with the alternative property owner.”
However, he said, “Most of these facts (about the two pieces of property) are established,” referring to criteria staff had established as necessary for an EOC location.
“I would tell you the Cattlemen site has many ideal features,” Reid said, adding that a face-to-face meeting such as Mason had requested is “also an unusual process.”
Commissioner Joe Barbetta seconded Mason’s motion, saying, “I’ll support it only … because of this email we just got … but the process has to end at (some) point.”
Referring to the project manager, Carolyn Eastwood of the county’s Public Works Department, Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane and others seated before the commission, Barbetta added, “I’m looking at these people. They’re engineers; they’re emergency management people. This is their expertise … Right now, on its face, the Cattlemen Road site is the primary site,” as they had recommended.
“I have some concerns that I’ve tried to get answered and have been unable to get answered,” Chairwoman Christine Robinson pointed out. “There was a … lack of thoroughness” in the staff review.
Commissioner Nora Patterson had recused herself from the discussion, saying her husband, an attorney, had represented Halfacre Construction in the past. She did not want to risk any question about a conflict of interest, she added.
After learning several years ago that the Sarasota County Administration Building in downtown Sarasota could not withstand a hurricane above the Category 3 level, staff and the commission began working on an alternative site. In February 2011, the County Commission approved a design contract with Architects Design Group for the new facility, to be located at 1301 Cattlemen Road. The EOC also will house the 911 center.
Then, in July 2011, staff began looking at other possible sites, given the lower cost of property as a result of the Great Recession. By December 2011, the County Commission had reduced a list of four potential sites to two: 1301 Cattlemen and 7060 Professional Parkway.
During that December meeting, staff pointed out potential problems with the Professional Parkway site, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency criteria and other guidelines for emergency management centers:
• The site does not have two separate routes to Interstate 75 within 5 miles over paved public or arterial roads.
• It is not located within 1 mile of a public transportation stop.
• An antenna of up to 150 feet, critical to radio communications, might not be allowed.
During the April 24 presentation, Eastwood said the county had received a letter from Shroeder-Manatee Ranch that would allow the county to use a private road as a second access to I-75 from the Professional Parkway property. She pointed out, “The road is not currently maintained … (but it) is passable.”
Regarding the antenna, Eastwood said the county had received a letter from the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park Owners Association president granting permission for an antenna on the site to be higher than the 65 feet already allowed. However, she said, an antenna on that property would have to be 400 feet tall to reach all the repeater antennas throughout Sarasota County.
Finally, in reference to the public transportation stop, the commissioners discussed the possibility of placing a new Sarasota County Area Transit stop closer to the Professional Parkway property.
Eastwood told the commissioners that an EOC could be completed on either the Cattlemen or Professional Parkway site before the start of the 2014 hurricane season.
During the presentation, Mason and Robinson also questioned staff about whether the county could save money by using a generator already on the Professional Parkway site. Eastwood said that generator was between seven and 10 years old and its condition was unknown.
Mark Smith, also a project manager in the Public Works Department, said he was unable to access the maintenance records for that generator when he visited the site. When Robinson asked why he had not persisted in getting that information, Smith said, given the age of the generator, he did not feel it was appropriate to count on using it.
“A brand new generator can fail,” McCrane said.
Still, Robinson said, “we didn’t have that information (about the Professional Parkway generator) because we didn’t ask for it.”
Robinson also criticized Eastwood for not responding to her request for detailed information on the standards and guidelines staff had used in preparing the criteria the new EOC site should meet. Eastwood apologized.
Ian Reeves, president of Architects Design Group, told Robinson that his firm, in working with the staff, had adhered to guidelines that had been recommended by the U.S. Department of Defense over the past decade as “basic minimum standards in planning these types of facilities.”