Patrons waiting in line at the Panhandle Butterfly House located in Navarre Park (South Santa Rosa News file photo)
Volunteers with Panhandle Butterfly House are concerned about the future of the facility after the County Administrator recommended commissioners approve its relocation to a site owned by a third party. Over the past three days more than 1,400 people have signed a petition to keep PBH on county-owned property at Navarre Park, and commissioners tomorrow will discuss the issue.
The board in October 2017 approved the design and construction for Phase 1 (A&B) of Navarre Park master plan improvements, including a new butterfly house to replace the existing facility.
“The current PBH facility will be demolished – unless the PBH decides to do something else with it – when the construction begins in Navarre Park,” County Administrator Dan Schebler told South Santa Rosa News.
Commissioners in May directed county staff to work with the PBH board on a sustainable agreement ahead of construction of the new facility. Several meetings took place among both parties — and Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge representatives.
Navarre resident Nancy Forester, former ECWR Senior Docent, started the petition against relocating the butterfly house to ECWR’s property.
“This is not right. The refuge and county are taking advantage of PBH. And in the end I fear for the PBH existence,” Forester said, alleging PBH wasn’t consulted during preliminary planning and accusing planners of making the new facility “too expensive.”
“So now instead of reducing price and leaving them there, they want to move PBH to the ECWR property. Essentially taking away the money for the PBH and giving it to ECWR,” Forester said, pointing out PBH has presented a “well-documented” business plan.
ECWR President Bill Andersen said the refuge did not initiate the discussions but thinks it is a good idea for both organizations.
Schebler told commissioners via memo there are two options to maintain a butterfly house in Santa Rosa County: (1) move forward with the approved master plan’s $930,000 construction estimates for a 2,000-square-foot learning center and 2,600-square-foot vivarium/greenhouse or (2) pursue a $550,000 shared-use education center and new vivarium, which could open in March and be staffed by ECWR staff, at the refuge site.
Schebler recommended the latter. “Stewardship of the taxpayer dollars and ensuring that the capital investment could be operated, maintained and sustained without additional county/taxpayer support were the primary consideration,” he said.
Meanwhile, over the weekend volunteers dug up plants from the vivarium while insisting they want the facility to remain at Navarre Park.
“We do not want funds designated and approved unanimously in October 2017 for the (PBH) to be given to another organization,” stated PBH November 4 on social media.
“They have been the cornerstone of Navarre for 21 years and are the gateway to the ecological part of the park and beach,” Forester said. “The butterflies know exactly where the PBH is for their migration.”
Final construction plans for Navarre Park are expected by the end of the year.
Tomorrow’s commission committee meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the County Administrative Complex, located at 6495 Caroline Street in Milton. It may be view online via www.santarosa.fl.gov (click November 5 on the calendar at the bottom then select “more details”).
To sign the petition visit: www.change.org