When Judge Richard “Ric” Howard suggested moving some court services to the former Coke building next to the courthouse, county commissioners were all for it.

Then they saw the estimated price tag and quickly  retreated.

During a workshop Tuesday morning, commissioners saw an estimated $2.5 million needed to renovate the historic building for a courtroom and offices for three county court judges.

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“I can’t see putting any money into this building,” board Chairman Scott Carnahan said.

Howard asked commissioners in May to utilize the old Coca-Cola building for county court, which handles misdemeanors and small-claims lawsuits. The building has sat empty since being vacated by the Supervisor of Elections a year ago.

Howard noted the Legislature and governor approved a third county court judge for Citrus, and the number of cases will only increase as the county continues to grow.

Commissioners at the time were on board.

Scott Carnahan mug

County Commissioner Scott Carnahan.

“We would love to put you over there,” Carnahan told Howard during the May 11 board meeting.

But during Tuesday’s workshop, County Administrator Randy Oliver estimated $2.5 million to retrofit the building for a county courtroom, offices and security.

Commissioners said they were surprised at what they considered a high cost for something that was presented as a temporary solution.

“I thought we were doing a quick fix,” Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach said.

Carnahan said there is plenty of unused space in the courthouse, including the commission chambers and offices, that can be utilized for judicial purposes through scheduling. He also said there’s a courtroom at the jail that could be used more.

Commissioner Holly Davis agreed.

“We need to leverage the heck out of our unused space,” she said.

Commissioners asked Oliver to bring back recommendations for a space study of the courthouse and possibly listing the old Coke building for sale.

Howard was not in the commission chambers during the discussion and he heard the news later from a reporter who called seeking comment.

"I'm disappointed, but we'll continue to talk to the county," he said.

Tuesday’s board workshop touched on several projects, including:

• Commissioners said they will build a new animal shelter in Lecanto, after hearing from some people who were suggesting Crystal River instead.

“Putting it in a flood zone is a terrible idea,” Carnahan said.

The county is estimating a $9 million shelter with potential add-ons funded by private efforts. Schlabach said about $6,000 a week is coming into the Citrus County Chronicle from citizens to help pay for the new shelter. The newspaper is giving those checks to Schlabach, who gives them to the county administration.

• Adding a multipurpose path alongside Fort Island Trail would cost about $3 million for each mile, according to county estimates, and could be higher or lower depending on the proximity of wetlands to the project. The county has about $1.1 million set aside — including $400,000 from the Tourist Development Council — to start the trail from Fort Island Gulf Beach and work eastward.

Kinnard and Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. both said they thought the estimate was high. At Kinnard’s suggestion, Oliver will seek design/build bids to see how much path can be built for the budgeted amount. Once the county starts the project, it hopes to receive state funding.

• A dog park may be coming to Bicentennial Park, and possibly at some point Citrus Springs as well. Commissioners, led by Kinnard, said the county could fence in property already mowed at Bicentennial Park in Crystal River for an inexpensive dog park.

Citrus Springs resident Pam Williamson has asked the same on county-owned land at the Citrus Springs Community Center. Commissioners asked her to continue gathering public support.

“North Citrus County needs activities for young and old alike,” she said. “I’m talking to people. It’s an easy sell.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.

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