Franklin County Extension christens new digs

More than a year after completing renovations at its new
office location, the Franklin County Extension staff welcomed the community to celebrate
the new digs,

“The road to completion for the project was long and winding
with some unexpected turns but in the end we have a beautiful facility in which
to serve the public with a variety of extension services,” said Erik Lovestrand,
the county’s extension director.

The open house and ribbon cutting were on Thursday, June 24,
and culminated a six-year-old relocation effort, from the Fort Coombs Armory
and later the county courthouse.

In 2015, the county commission submitted a request for
funding to their legislative delegation, who were at the time State Senator
Bill Montford and State Representative Halsey Beshears. At the end of the
legislative session, the state allocated $250,000 earmarked for the Extension
office renovation project.

After many turns in the road, including concern about handicap
renovation and other conditions of the project, Franklin County commissioners in
2018 signed a 20-year sub-lease agreement with the Florida Department of
Environmental Protection for the building, which had served as the headquarters
of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve prior to its
re-location to a new facility off Island Drive in Eastpoint.

Under the direction of Barnett Fronczak Barlowe & Shuler
Architects,, with the work performed by OliverSperry Renovation &
Construction, both of Tallahassee, the roughly 2,000-square-foot building
received new floors, some with carpeting and some painted with epoxy, as well
as new tiles in the bathrooms, in the front entry and in the solarium. New bathroom
fixtures, LED lighting and painting were also included.

“We kind of started from scratch,” said Lovestrand. “We’re gradually
working on adding a few little things.”

Architectural and construction services were completed
during 2019 and staff moved their equipment and furniture into the facility in
January 2020. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, causing another
year’s delay in getting the facility open to the public.

In addition to Lovestrand, the office also serves as the
workplace for Michelle Huber, the office manager and program assistant, and
Kayle Mears, in charge of the family nutrition program.

The boardwalk that winds into the bayou, across from the building’s
entrance, is for the time being out of commission, as the Conservation Corps of
the Forgotten Coast is working on replacing missing boards.

“We are excited now to be able to conduct programming onsite
related to our 4-H youth, Master Gardeners, family nutrition programs, and natural
resource topics,” said Lovestrand.

“The project received support from a large number of groups
and individuals to make it a reality,” he said. “Special thanks to all who
helped move the process forward, wrote letters of support, handled all of the
paperwork, and helped us work through the difficulties along the way.

“It definitely took a village to raise this baby, including
our county commission, state legislators, Florida Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, University
of Florida, county staff, and many heroic individual efforts from community
members and volunteers,” he said. “I and my staff want to relay a heartfelt
Thank You to everyone who had a part in it.”

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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