FORT WALTON BEACH — If all goes as planned, the plant sales and clinics, master gardener classes and other agriculture-related programs provided by Okaloosa County’s south-area extension office could be based in greener pastures starting in late 2020.
The Fort Walton Beach City Council last week unanimously approved a resolution in support of the county’s application for a grant that would help pay for construction of an agriculture education and promotion facility at 1954 Lewis Turner Blvd.
Councilwoman Diane Keller had an excused absence from the meeting.
The county-owned site is in the city limits between Miss Ruth's Farmers Market and the County Courthouse Annex Extension.
The county has leased its existing south-area extension office at 127 Hollywood Blvd S.W. from Fort Walton Beach for $1 per year since 1974.
Like the farmer’s market, the proposed facility would be managed by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences-Okaloosa County Extension Service.
“The city of Fort Walton Beach has been very supportive of us,” county Extension Director Pam Allen said before last week's council meeting. “With this (proposed) move, we’d move into a county-owned facility.”
The office on Hollywood Boulevard has a leaky roof and has been flooded twice, Allen said. City Manager Michael Beedie told the council that the office is in a flood zone.
“We’ve outgrown that building,” Allen said. “When we have plant sales and other large programs, the parking is really tight.”
The city’s resolution of support will be presented to the County Commission on Tuesday. With the commission’s approval, county staff will submit an application to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for a grant of about $850,000, Allen said.
The possible funding, which could be approved by May, would pay for a 2,800-square-foot agriculture education and promotion facility. It would include meeting space for 90 people, a kitchen for nutrition and culinary classes, two offices, a plant and soil diagnostic lab and a restroom for farmer’s market visitors.
The County Extension Service is based in Crestview. The proposed new south-end building would be similar in size to the facility on Hollywood Boulevard but would have a larger meeting room and parking lot, Allen said.
The state requires the county to provide a minimum 40 percent match of the grant. Allen said the county plans to use its property at the proposed project site and in-house labor to provide the match.