The tranquil notes of Mozart and Beethoven floating through the windows of The Janie Poe Apartment Complex, a 40 year old Sarasota public housing development, were as uncommon as their instrumentalist. Chelsea J. Williams, a former Janie Poe resident and now first chair Clarinet at nearby Booker High School, was the source. The notes, although played by a former public housing resident, were made possible through a well orchestrated Sarasota Housing Authority application for $2.46 million in Recovery Act Public Housing Transformation funds. Accompanying this classical music is the steady percussion of cement mixers, demolition cranes, backhoes and a section of construction workers resonating a transformation from isolated notes to a composition named Janie's Garden. The City of Sarasota, Sarasota County and Florida Department of Transportation combined as a trio to support the project to the tune of $4 million of Phase II funding.

[Photo: Newton minority contractors and Sarasota Housing Authority residents]
Newton minority contractors and Sarasota Housing Authority residents

New residents of public housing and several minority contractors are being added to this musical masterpiece upon which a unique 10,500 sf retail center will be built. In addition, 68 low income housing tax credit, public housing and project based rental voucher units will be included. The Sarasota Housing Authority created this sustainable community thanks to the collaborative efforts of the City of Sarasota and community partners who were willing to implement an entry level construction training program for residents. Eighteen individuals attended and graduated from a five week course in basic construction skills. Already, ten have been hired for full time jobs. Graduates of this first class are expected to be in attendance at the next City Commission meeting.

Historically, the unemployment rate in the Newtown area exceeds that of Sarasota County. The current unemployment rate in Sarasota County is 11.4%. Concerned over the growing number of unemployed adults in North Sarasota, Newtown community leaders and residents worked together to formulate a program to teach individuals the skill sets necessary to land a job at almost any construction site. The training class, known as "Introduction to the Building Construction Industry", was developed by Dr. Todd Bowden, with the Sarasota County Technical Institute, who worked closely with local contractors to focus on teaching skills specific to construction site jobs. The course syllabus provided 150 hours of training, including:

  • Basic Safety - 15 hours;
  • Introduction to Construction Mathematics - 15 hours;
  • Introduction to Hand Tools - 12 hours;
  • Introduction to Construction Drawings - 9 hours;
  • Introduction to Power Tools - 6 hours;
  • Introduction to Materials Handling - 6 hours;
  • Basic Employability Skills - 15 hours; and
  • Basic Communication Skills - 6 hours.

Upon completion of the course, students receive an SCTI program completion certificate, National Center for Construction Education and Research completion certificate; forklift Operator Certificate, Florida Ready-to-Work Credential, FDLE background check, OSHA Safety Card, American Red Cross CPR Heartsaver Card, and a basic first aid card. The program was primarily funded through the Federal Workforce Investment Act and Tandem Construction, Inc. based in Sarasota. Students were spared the course tuition of $763.

In creating the program, the City of Sarasota collaborated with individuals, the Suncoast Workforce Board/Jobs ETC, SCTI/Sarasota County School Board, Sarasota Housing Authority and contractors selected for major construction projects in Newtown such as Tandem Construction, Kraft Construction Company, Willis A. Smith and Jon Smith. Supporting initiatives for the education and employment of Newtown residents is one of the City Commission's measurable goals for the administration.

The music now emanating from Janie's Garden, thanks to Recovery funding, are the sweet sounds of employment, increasing resident dignity and sustainable community development. What a masterpiece!


Content Archived: January 7, 2014