County Commission approves $3.3 million for design and construction
On May 24, the Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $3,325,320 to the design and construction of a new Enterprise Information Technology (EIT) and data facility, plus a new county employee health facility, on the Southwest Quad, near the Celery Fields in the eastern part of the county.
The Quad is bordered by Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard.
Commissioner Michael Moran was absent because of illness, Chair Alan Maio noted at the start of the meeting, which was held in Sarasota.
The funding item was listed on the May 24 agenda as Presentation Upon Request. No board member asked for a presentation, and no members of the public had signed up to speak about the plans. Therefore, it took only about 4 minutes for the commissioners to conclude that part of the day’s business.
The EIT office building will comprise “approximately 14,000 gross square feet” of space, while the data center will have about 5,500 square feet, the memo noted. Another 6,000 square feet will be allocated to a “chiller/generator yard,” the memo added. A “chiller” is equipment related to an air-conditioning system.
Staff anticipates the health facility to encompass approximately 6,000 square feet, “including offices, exam rooms, screening areas and associated functions,” the memo explained.
The Southwest Quad most recently has been the focus of discussions about the potential sale of the Florida House to the Manatee-Sarasota Business Industry Association (MSBIA). As The Sarasota News Leader reported in its May 20 edition, county administrative staff has been adamant that the “green building” educational structure standing on Beneva Road would not be relocated to the Southwest Quad, if it is sold to the MSBIA, as that organization has proposed.
In October 2020, the County Commission unanimously agreed to place conservation easements over the Southwest, Southeast and Northeast Quads. It worked with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is based in Osprey, and Sarasota Audubon on that undertaking, to ensure that any future uses of those parcels would not result in negative consequences for the adjacent Celery Fields. Although the latter area was created as a major county stormwater project, it has become internationally known as a bird-watching destination.
In light of the County Commission action on May 24, the News Leader did ask Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast (CFGC) whether she had been made aware of the plans for the EIT buildings and health facility on the Southwest Quad.
“Yes,” she responded in an email that day. “CFGC is aware and working with County staff to ensure design of the building is consistent with conservation easement allowed uses.”
The staff memo in the May 24 agenda packet did acknowledge the conservation easement, noting, “The Project will be planned in accordance with the Easement and Management Agreement.”
Additionally, that memo explained that the EIT Data Center is in a space whose lease will expire in 2026. That site “has some components that are not hardened against [wind storms],” the memo pointed out. The new facility, the memo continued, will incorporate features designed to ensure that it has far better protection from storm events.
Further, the memo noted, the EIT offices will allow for “a hybrid work environment with staff splitting time working in-office” and remotely. That will result in a smaller building footprint, which will save the county construction and operational expenses, the memo said.
The new Employee Health Facility will be a modernized replacement for the aging structure located at 1301 Cattlemen Road, the memo added.
Following approval of the funding allocation this week, the memo continued, staff plans to issue Requests for Professional Services for an architectural firm and a construction management firm. The design process is expected to begin in October, with construction anticipated to start in March 2024, the memo pointed out.
A document attached to the resolution that the commissioners approved indicates that the construction should be complete before the end of the 2026 fiscal year, which will conclude on Sept. 30, 2026.
That document also shows that the design and engineering expense for the overall project has been put at a total of $1,786,800, with construction estimated at $197,220 and equipment anticipated to cost $600,300.
Information Technology funds and medical benefits “Internal Service Fees” will cover the expense of the undertaking, the attachment shows.
EIT does generate revenue, as county staff has noted.
For examples, in May 2020, the commissioners approved two agreements — one with the Sarasota County School Board; the other, with the City of Sarasota — to give them “more efficiently balanced internet traffic” through use of a high-bandwidth optical network provided by EIT. The city contract was to generate revenue of $132,984, a staff memo said, while the School Board contract would provide EIT revenue of $263,184.