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New ECWCD building is no longer a dream

November 24, 2011
By MIKE BONACOLTA , Lehigh Acres Citizen

In 1998, the East County Water Control District Administration Building was condemned after an air quality test forcing the district to begin working in trailers. While our district has remained the same size, the level of service has increased.

Due to the major increase of population of the district since the time the Administration building was condemned, along with the increase of development since that time, our district has had to increase its level of service.

Our district has grown, and it was known for some time the trailers would not meet the standards of a growing district. A long journey then began, and due to economic woes of the district at the time the first attempt at constructing a new administration building it failed in 2003. In 2004, the Board then resolved that it would someday build a new administration building. In 2008, the Board once again came close to a new building.

Former Commissioner Desmond Barrett led the fight to finally construct an Administration Building that had been debated even before he became a member of the board. While Commissioner Barrett fought valiantly and relentlessly, the Board just dreamed a bit too big for the ECWCD.

The building was labeled a "Taj Mahal" before I was elected by the people to serve on this board. I called at that time for a smaller, more logical, more efficient, and less costly building than the proposed 13,000 square feet, $1.5 million building.

What we got after this newest attempt was a move to a building that was not on ECWCD property and where the employees and the administration were separated by a few miles.

This was not logical, and not sustainable for a brighter future for the district.

After the 2010 elections, just a few months in office, Commissioner David Deetscreek, Commissioner Mike Welch, and I took leadership and moved the board from talk of purchasing the new building we had recently moved into and were leasing.

This building had issues with the platting, and was not even fully complete inside. Instead we moved talk once again to a permanent home for our district, on ECWCD property, as one district, where administration and all employees will both work.

This time the process was done with constituents and the tough economic times we faced in mind. Our current Board worked together to keep the building small, 6,500 Square feet, yet allow it to have some room for growth in the future.

The final design provided a major step forward for the district. The new building also could be paid for out of money already secured from money the district previously loaned to accomplish projects such as Harns Marsh Phase II and various Culvert Projects.

Had the board chosen to purchase a building, as opposed to constructing a new structure, a new $1 million loan would have been needed for the purchase.

So with great leadership, from not just the board, but the staff that dedicated time and effort to find the right size building at the right cost, the construction of a new building was passed by our board. It was a bit symbolic that Commissioner Desmond Barrett, who once took on this issue, and served with many commissioners who had come and gone, made the motion to approve what he and others had spent so long to accomplish.

Over the following months the district waited for word on the final cost of construction because anything over the amount allowed by the board would cause the issue to be re-opened and put the project at risk. However, after hard work by the ECWCD staff, and those involved in the planning of this new building, I am proud to be able to write today the project came in at the budget allowed, and construction will commence in December, with hope for this new headquarters to be opened sometime in April to very early May of 2012.

It has been a long journey, one that I recently joined, but I am happy to see this come in, finally, for a landing, and that it was done so efficiently and with the people in mind.

This shows what can be accomplished when government works for the people. Over the next few months it will be the responsibility of your board of commissioners, and the administration of the ECWCD to ensure the project goes on smoothly with no extra costs added, and that the taxpayers' dollars are spent properly.

I pledge as one of your Commissioners to do my part, to track this progress, and to be a watchdog on this project. I urge all citizens of this district to keep an eye out as well, to attend meetings, to ask questions, because this is your government. Make sure it works for you.

Commissioner Mike Bonacolta, serves on the East County Water Control District, Seat 4.



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