Monroe County has a lot of projects underway

Cary Knight, Director of Project Management for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

A project at Rowell’s Waterfront Park has seen some developments.

Knight said, “Last year we received a TDC grant and work is being done for installing some Tiki huts. There will be some shade structures installed up there. There’s a grant, it’s a CDBG grant and it’s for just under $3 million. There’s a lot of red tape with some of these grants, but that one in particular, we’ve made it through all of the series and steps and reviews and we’ve been clear to start procurement.”

The process takes around four or five months and construction will likely begin late spring next year.

Knight said, “That is for a second bathroom closer to the water, down the hill, a larger parking lot, which almost adds 300 to 400 percent more parking, and it completes the walking path. So the walking path then would go all the way around the park. It puts in lighting for the events if the events ever come back to the park and gives us flexibility for that. It adds a lot of really great infrastructure, but the scope is very limited by what was only in the grant and there’s a lot of red tape with this one. But we’re really excited to get that no match money, which means that it’s $3 million of free money to develop another one of our assets for our community.”

With budget season nearing the end, grants are incredibly important.

Knight said, “I’ve been in this position now for almost seven years, and we knew that we live in a very small community with a very limited amount of resources. We still have one of the lowest millage rates in the state of Florida. We don’t want to burden our taxpayers. So we made it our mission as part of our department is to go after as many grants as we possibly could. About 75 to 80 percent of all of our work is paid for by grants. So if we can take a taxpayers dollar and turn it into four, we’re going to do it. Once in a while, we get some of these that that are no match and we go after them. They’re not easy. The grants are a lot of paperwork, and a lot of red tape. You have to make sure you’re right with them because you could jeopardize reimbursement, we don’t want that to happen, either. We’ve gotten pretty good at it. That allows our commission to have that flexibility and that liquidity to be able to do things like purchase helicopters or do something else that’s important to the community where before you’d be a little bit more tied, because you’d be strapped.”

The Emergency Operations Center is a big project.

Knight said, “That’s a $32 million building, paid again, 100 percent by grant money. We are still on track for a mid-first quarter completion of the building. Then there will be a couple months of people moving in and getting the 911 call center moved over. We look really, really good. They set the transformer, we’re switching over to permanent power in October, which will get our AC systems that are already installed up and running. We need that to do the finish work. So we’re really excited about that. It’s really coming along great and it looks absolutely fantastic. I’m really excited that people will get a chance to walk through that building when we do the grand opening, which will be in probably April, May timeframe. So definitely before Hurricane season.”

There are also projects in the Lower Keys as well.

Knight said, “We’re building a new public defender’s office. The public defender is finally going to have a permanent home. They’ve never had a permanent home, they’ve always leased or rented space. This puts them into a county owned space, a couple blocks from the Jackson Square. So they’re going to be able to get back and forth to court really easy. It’s an old historic warehouse, so there wasn’t a lot of demo work to get that up and ready. That’s moving along. We’re hoping that finishes before the end of the year. If not, it’ll be very early spring of next year, and then that will get them out of the professional building. It’s a considerable amount of money per year, that it saves the taxpayer. So it’s a good financial decision for the community to go ahead and purchase that property and then build it out, give them a permanent space.”

The Key West Lighthouse is another project.

Knight said, “We’re pretty excited about being able to help the Key West Art and Historical Society by being the grant applicant. We were able to use an Art in Public Places style contract and we actually encouraged a gentleman to come out of retirement and he built three oil storage containers, similar to the ones that are up at St. Augustine Lighthouse. They are exact replicas built from plans that are in Washington DC, at the library there. There was renovations to the lighthouse, partly to the keeper’s quarters and it was just a refresh of a number of things. The oil house is now part of an expanded exhibition space. So when you go to the Lighthouse, you can actually look in the oil house, you can see how the oil was stored. We’re really excited to be able to expand that value proposition. The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters is one of the flagship museums that the county owns. We have a third party manage that for us and anything that we can do to expand the value proposition, make these museums more self-sustaining, means that it’s not a burden on the taxpayer’s dollar to do the maintenance and the upkeep. The more money they generate, the more self-sufficient they become. So we’re really excited about expanding that facility and continuing its journey on economic self-sufficiency.”