04/19/2017 Lighthouse buys land on Ridge Road for facility

Story re-posted with permission, courtesy of The Suncoast News.

By CARL ORTH | The Suncoast News
Published online: April 19, 2017

Lighthouse buys land on Ridge Road for facility

Drawing of the new building An architect’s drawing shows what the new Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind building on Ridge Road could look like. The proposed site, east of Little Road, was formerly occupied by a golf driving range.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Sylvia Stinson-Perez could be busier than ever in 2018, her 10th anniversary as the CEO of Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind.

She and other leaders of the nonprofit organization have begun a project to build a new home for the Lighthouse on Ridge Road a bit east of Bass Lake Road.

The new Lighthouse headquarters will have some 17,400 square feet on land a few miles east of Little Road that was once the site of a golf driving range. A Lighthouse sign could be posted at the site within a week or so.

That’s more than three times the roughly 5,500 square feet the Lighthouse has leased the past two decades at 8610 Galen Wilson Blvd., in a building just north of Ridge Road owned by Pasco County.

A few weeks ago, appeals to Lighthouse supporters generated $10,000 in pledges within one week for the building fund, Perez said. Such generosity will boost the project to make it into a reality, she said, adding she hopes to schedule a grand opening for early summer 2018.

Pasco County put up $400,000 to help purchase the 8.8-acre site, which has a price tag of $675,000.

Lighthouse asked state lawmakers to file a special budget request for state funds to construct the building. State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and state Rep. Amber Mariano, R-New Port Richey, are pursuing the $1.5 million budget request.

“Both of them stepped up,” Perez said of the two Pasco lawmakers.

That means Lighthouse might not know until late June if the state budget request will survive Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen. Perez might recruit Lighthouse boosters to write letters to the governor urging him to leave the appropriation in the budget.

“I never would have thought we would be building a building,” Perez said.

In January 2016, Pasco officials broached the idea of moving the county’s Community Development Block Grant program staff into the Galen Wilson Boulevard building space the Lighthouse has been occupying. They suggested that Lighthouse move to the second floor of the Pasco Health Department building at 10841 Little Road.

That idea didn’t get past the suggestion stage, however, because the elevator in the Health Department building likely would have handicapped-access problems and the building’s floor space was not conducive for Lighthouse programs, Perez said.

“If you come in here in the summer time, it’s a madhouse,” she said in an April 11 interview. “We need that space” in a new building.

The Lighthouse’s blind babies program now has 20 youngsters from newborn to 5 years old. A year-old program for children ages 5 to 13 has a dozen members now but probably will boom in the future. Another 18 teens and young adults participate in the work transition program, with many students working jobs at Publix Supermarkets.

As a result, Perez said, managing the Lighthouse schedule is often a juggling act since the space can’t accommodate adults and youths at the same times.

It wasn’t until the notion of a building project that Lighthouse leaders realized just how cramped the organization had become as more and more people seek help with vision impairments.

The Lighthouse has come a long way since its very humble beginning in 1983, publicist Patricia Porter said. Thousands have since passed through Lighthouse doors. The new facility will “enable us to run all of our programs — from babies to seniors training classes — at one time,” Porter said. “It will be absolutely amazing.”

The new facility would include a playground for the children, mobility training track, covered picnic area, babies’ early intervention play room, children’s and teens’ zones, adapted training kitchen and classroom, computer labs, Braille classroom, art room with gallery and the Opportunity Center work area. The Opportunity Center is now based at a satellite site on Pine Hill Road, in the Port Richey area.

Those who donate at least $250 to help build and furnish the new Lighthouse home will be listed on a plaque in a prominent place of the new building. Naming opportunities are also available.

The Lighthouse would use the money to “make a positive difference through providing people, from babies to seniors, with the skills needed to achieve their maximum independence for years to come,” Perez said.