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Thursday April 24th 2014

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Looking Out for 4-H

Prior to approving the design contract for a planned 4-H center last night, the Escambia County Commission dug deep into the organization’s concerns pertaining to costs and the possibility of securing land for agricultural purposes.

“I come to you tonight because I have 15-month-old twin daughters and I want them to have what I had,” 4-H supporter Jacob Gilmore told the commission.

Last year, 4-H agreed to sell its 240 acre Langly-Bell property to Navy Federal Credit Union for $3.6 million so that the neighboring business could expand its campus. As part of the deal, Escambia County agreed to use $1.5 million in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) money to construct a new Stefani Road 4-H center on county-owned land.

The 4-H organization sent $2 million from the sale up the chain to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.  Members of the 4-H community are now concerned that the remaining $1.6 million—held back, with an eye on purchasing land to be used for livestock purposes—will be dipped into if the Stefani Road center runs over budget.

“I’m going to be highly upset if this money goes to this building on Stefani Road, or goes to Gainesville,” said Commissioner Wilson Robertson, who also sits on the 4-H Foundation.

Robertson, as well as Commissioner Steven Barry, had expressed the same concerns during an earlier work session. Interim County Administrator George Touart assured the commissioners that the Stefani Road project would be relying solely on the LOST funds.

“If they come back one dollar over $1.5 million, there is no project,” Touart reiterated last night.

After questioning Pam Allen, the head of Escambia’s 4-H extension office, and requesting that IFAS provide the county with its vision for the future of the organization locally, the commission went ahead and awarded a $170,000 architectural and engineering contract to Hernandez Calhoun Design International for the approximately 10,000-square foot Stefani Road building.

“At some point in time we have to believe they’re going to keep it within that budget and hold them accountable if they don’t,” Barry said.