CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa County Master Gardeners President Marge Stewart suggested increased professionalism and workplace pride are just some benefits of the University of Florida/IFAS Okaloosa County Extension service’s new $1 million office building.
“There’s room for everybody to do their stuff. We’re not embarrassed to have people visit anymore. We’re not climbing over people who are trying to answer the phones. This is amazing!” she said.
With the snip of a red ribbon, the extension service’s days of operating from a cramped, outdated former fairgrounds shed are officially over. Extension staff and equipment completed the move from Old Bethel Road in time for the new facility’s official opening Monday morning.
“In that short period of time, it’s about killed us,” Family and Consumer Sciences agent Elaine Courtney said. “But we did it.”
After Gerald Edmondson, previous extension director and the building’s namesake, snipped the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce ribbon, the crowd toured the building. Bob Bayer greeted guests in the testing lab, a facility he no longer must share with Master Gardeners operating phones to answer resident questions.
Marine Sciences agent Brooke Saari proudly showed her new office and storeroom to guests.
“When I first met her, her office was a hallway,” County Commissioner Wayne Harris said. “That’s what prompted much of this.”
Moving to the new building was a collaborative effort.
Master Gardeners provided landscaping. Donations of time, money and plants, including foliage from the Niceville and Destin garden clubs, enhance the building.
AVCON Engineers and Planners, donated engineering services. Airports Director Greg Donovan donated airport-owned land. Mike Moulton and Linc Grant, whose construction companies built the building, also received thanks.
“This was a community effort,” state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, said. “It started out as an idea by Gerald Edmondson but it became a community effort. Enough can’t be said about a community that works together.”
The new building rose on Airport Road in just seven months, though the journey to Monday’s ribbon cutting and dedication began in the 1990s under Edmondson’s guidance.
Edmondson said much of the credit should go to area legislators, including former state senator, Dr. Durrell Peaden, and his successor, Evers. Evers, a local farmer, was on a late-1990s advisory committee researching construction of the new facility prior to his election to office.
“He’s been a strong advocate for us, he and Sen. Peaden,” Edmondson said.
The new facility cost nearly $1 million, most of which a $750,000 Florida Department of Agriculture Consumer Services grant paid for by matching county funds, donated land and in-kind services. Larry Williams, Edmondson’s successor, served as project manager.
During the dedication ceremony, Evers read a state proclamation formally naming the Gerald Edmondson Okaloosa County Extension Office.
“This is something I never in my wildest dreams ever expected,” Edmondson said.
“Even though Gerald is retired … he keeps a close touch with the farmers in our area seeking advice on farming issues, and just to keep in touch with an old, dear friend,” the proclamation stated.