$11 million for local projects in state budget

The gymnasium is shown at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. on May 11, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted May 11, 2021 | By Carlos Medina, carlos@ocalagazette.com

Florida’s proposed $101.5 billion 2021-22 budget includes more than $11 million for Marion County projects.

While the Legislature passed the budget on April 30, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has line-item veto power and could nix some or all the local earmarks.

Of the proposed local projects, the largest is $7.8 million to renovate the College of Central Florida’s gym to a nursing school facility. The gym renovation plans come after the Legislature failed to fund a $43 million project to build a health science building at the college. The new construction was approved in 2017, but only $6 million was apportioned in the last four budget cycles.

The gymnasium is shown at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. on May 11, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

The planned four-story building would have encompassed nursing, emergency medical services, physical therapy and surgical support programs.

The 13,000-square-foot gym is no longer used for athletics after the college ended its basketball and volleyball programs in 2020.

The proposed state funding for the renovation comes after the Marion County Hospital District’s board of trustees passed on funding the renovation plan late last year.

Before that, the district’s trustees agreed to match 20% of the cost of the $43 million health science building, or $8.7 million. The district remains committed to the match, but the agreements expire in 2025 and 2027. Any balance not used by the college would revert to the district.

CF President Jim Henningsen presented the idea of the renovation to the district’s board in June after the state seemed unlikely to set aside any more money for the health science building.

The $6 million awarded by the state in 2017 was spent – as well as $1.2 million matching from the hospital district – for architectural designs, demolition and site preparation for the new building.

The Hospital District is a special state board that owns AdventHealth Ocala, which is operated by AdventHealth under a lease.

In 2014, the district agreed to lease the former Munroe Regional Medical Center to a private operator. Part of the deal included $213 million in cash. The district invested the money and uses earnings to fund health projects in the community.

The gymnasium is shown at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. on May 11, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

In 2018, AdventHealth bought the lease and eventually changed the hospital’s name. The district enforces the lease conditions.

Since 2016, the district has spent more than $9 million in grants to local agencies for programs targeting mental health/opioids, oral health, diabetes, obesity and tobacco cessation.

Livestock Pavilion

The Southeastern Livestock Pavilion is in line to receive $1 million, according to the proposed budget.

The money would be the latest from the state which has consistently given the facility funding over the years. The site, owned by Marion County and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences, hosts hundreds of events, many agricultural in nature, every year. It also hosts the annual Southeastern Youth Fair, one of the oldest fairs in the country dating back to the 1940s.

In 2017, the facility 2232 NE Jacksonville Rd unveiled a 92,000-square-foot covered arena. The $2.17 million project was paid for largely with state funds. The arena was built to host a more diverse number of equestrian and other events.

But governors have also vetoed appropriations. In 2016, then Gov. Rick Scott vetoed almost $1 million in funding to the facility.

The current $1 million is earmarked to help complete the expansions at the facility, including build out of campsites, a sanitary depository, stormwater infrastructure, entry and exit roadways and additional paved parking areas, according to Marion County.

The county also spent more than $200,000 at the facility upgrading to touchless faucets and toilets among other renovations using federal Coronavirus Relief Funds.

Other items

Ocala has three budget items for a total of more than $2.5 million.

The city’s conversion to pumping water from the more sustainable, but deep, lower Floridian Aquifer is slated to receive just more than $1 million. Another water project to address leaking sewers has $500,000 budgeted.

Finally, $1 million is set aside for the Southwest 44th Avenue expansion. The road would connect State Road 200 to US Highway 27 with the northern extension of the Southwest 42nd Street flyover. The plan has been stagnant since for more than a decade after it was derailed by the 2008 great recession.

The $1 million was in last year’s budget, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the item.

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