Sarasota County approves funding for major Siesta Key and EOC projects

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SARASOTA COUNTY - Two big and expensive projects got the okay from Sarasota County Commissioners Tuesday: $17.5 million for improvements to Siesta Beach, and more than $18 million for a new Emergency Operations Center.

The current Sarasota County headquarters near downtown Sarasota could be a disaster waiting to happen itself.

"In a very coastal area that is prone to flooding, the building is an older building. It is not storm rated," says Chief Mike Tobias with Sarasota County Emergency Services, talking about the current county EOC building.

In fact officials say that if a major storm was coming our way, it would be practically useless. "Right now, anything over a Category 2 hurricane, we evacuate this building. We move to Wilkinson (Road) and have to mobilize all the equipment from here and set up generators," says Tobias.

After years of debate, Tuesday commissioners approving the money to build a new hardened structure which will also house emergency call-takers, and is better located. "It's a great location. It is inland and out of the flood zone, adjacent to the interstate."

The price tag? "All things together it's $18.6 million."

It's not the only project commissioners opened the public’s purse for Tuesday; another $17.5 million was green-lit for Siesta Beach.

“The facilities at Siesta Beach are 50+ years old," says Carolyn Brown of Sarasota County Parks & Recreation.

The project features more than 100 additional parking spaces, a redo of the old concession area, and another. "A brand new concession on the eastern side of the park."

There are also walking trails, offices for lifeguards, a deck area, and more. "Playground equipment, landscaping…lots of new amenities for people to enjoy."

It’s a small price to pay they say for the area many think of first when they think of Sarasota County.

Now these projects are not going to happen overnight. The EOC construction will start next month and be complete before Hurricane Season 2015. Siesta will start in phases beginning in December and take two years.

The EOC will also get an upgraded radio system that alone will cost more than $18 million. It’s something that emergency officials say they would need anyway.