More than 140 Lehigh business people, legislators, employees of the East County Water Control District (ECWCD) and others made if official on May 17 with a dedication ceremony and luncheon for the new ECWCD administrative building at 601 East County Lane in Lehigh Acres.
A large tent was set up outside for attendees to escape the hot mid-day sun and Michael Welch, ECWCD chairman, welcomed those in attendance and noted the important day it was for the stormwater control district to finally open its administrative building.
The ceremony was impressive with the presentation of a U.S. flag to be exhibited in the new large meeting room, a gift from State Sen. Mike Bennett, and delivered by State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.
Former Commissioner Desmond Barrett with the plaque in his name.
Former political foes and friends alike all attended the gala ceremony. It was one of the largest dedication programs in Lehigh to officially mark the opening of the ECWCD campus, the home administrators were forced to leave a few years ago from rented trailers to a stay in the I&E Building.
After the official ribbon cutting ceremonies, visitors were treated to a buffet luncheon of barbecued chicken and several side dishes. The big meeting room can house around 110 people.
When those who had eaten got up, the places at the tables were quickly replaced with more in the crowd and afterwards, the employees who man the many culprits, bridges and canals in Lehigh, also enjoyed the meal.
During the dedication ceremony, the meeting room was named in honor of Former Commissioner Desmond Barrett, who resigned his seat from the present board and moved away to pastor a church. Both Desmond and his wife, Julie, were honored guests at the affair. Julie had served on the Lehigh Acres Fire District's board of commissioners.
Several spoke at the podium under the tent.
David Lindsay, the ECWCD's district administrator, said the administrative staff had moved in a "beautiful but utilitarian and useful, practical, effective, down to earth Administrative and Maintenance Campus."
He thanked designers Owens Ames Kimball's Dave Dale, construction manager; AIM Engineering and Surveying Inc.'s Lee Flynn for site planning; and Burt Hill, Pollock and Krieg, Lyn Pollock, the architects. He gave tribute to ECWCD Mike Welch and Carla Ulakovic who had planned the 11 a.m. program.
In addition to the many who came were the four present commissioners - Michael Welch, David Deetscreek, Michael Bonacolta, and J. Nathan Stout. Desmond Barrett's seat remains vacant and will be filled in the upcoming election.
In the letter from State Sen. Mike Bennett, he congratulated the ratepayers, the board as well as the employees of the district as they celebrated "this milestone of the East County Water Control District."
"This special day for the district is the culmination of several years of discussion and work to make this campus functional for the district to carry out its service to the people of Lehigh Acres and part of Hendry County. This new campus also respects these challenging times with simplicity as demanded by our citizens," he wrote.
He also said that he congratulated the board of commissioners for the leadership that they have given to the district over the past few years,.
"The ongoing professionalism and stability of the district has enabled it to be a serious partner with state and local government," he wrote,.
Many spoke before the crowd including Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, David Lindsay, the district manager; the ECWCD commissioners and State Rep. Matthew Caldwell including three members of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. Rev. Father Dennis Cooney, pastor at St. Raphael's Catholic Church, offered the invocation and Kathy O'Brien from the ECWCD, sang the national song before the group. Claude Cortright led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Following the luncheon, tours of the new building were given and golf cart rides took visitors to the new maintenance building, which opened around two months ago.
The new 6,835- square-foot, one-story administration building was constructed for $850,000 and according to Commissioner Mike Bonacolta, prices were kept in budget.
After the luncheon Commissioner David Deetscreek said the construction did not come about due to the efforts of the present board, but to the previous boards who he said paved the path.
"We were the ones who were able to accomplish the plan," he said.
John Graham, owner of Cabana Palms Dayspa, said he enjoyed the event.
"It was a nice ceremony that honored those who helped make it possible," he said.
Jack Morse, a Lehigh Realtor, said the project "was terrific and the ceremony was the best organized effort he had seen for some time. And the food was outstanding."
The room was the site of the first public meeting in the new building on Monday night.