Newfound aquifer allows for freshwater feature.

BY MANDY BOLEN – Citizen Staff

KEY WEST — The site of the former county office buildings on Stock Island is nearly unrecognizable, as plans for the continued expansion of the Key West Botanical Garden continue, and will include a new freshwater pond fed by a newly discovered underground aquifer in the area.

“The aquifer has always been there and is interconnected with the other freshwater ponds in the garden,” said Carolann Sharkey, chairman of the garden’s board of directors. “But they filled it in when they used the property to build a hospital.”

The garden expansion actually is a reclamation that has been nearly 70 years in the making.

The garden was formed from six acres in the 1930s by the federal government to encourage tourism during the Depression. It eventually grew to cover 55 acres, including the area that eventually would house Monroe General hospital during World War II, said Key West historian Tom Hambright.

The civilian hospital later moved, and the building became Monroe County’s headquarters and offices until the Gato building restoration on Simonton Street provided improved space for the county and Health Department.

The failing buildings on College Road were demolished, and the 7.5 acres of land once again became part of the Botanical Garden when the Florida Forever conservation group bought the property and donated it to the city of Key West for use as the garden.

Crews will redig the freshwater pond, cultivate the freshwater plants that grow around it, and Sharkey is hoping to obtain permission from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to reintroduce certain turtle species.

“Finding that aquifer during our excavation and research answered a lot of questions about why the freshwater plants were there to begin with,” she said on Thursday.

Sharkey and other board members will appear at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, hoping for approval to proceed with the next phase of the expansion, which specifically will include the pond and installation of boardwalks around it.

The city’s Planning Board already has approved the plans, adding some requirements, including ensuring that an archaeologist is present whenever surfaces are disturbed.

In other upcoming City Commission topics:

* Mayor Morgan McPherson wants to reappoint Richard Klitenick to the Planning Board and Barbara Bowers to the Historic Architectural Review Commission.

* Commissioners will discuss signing a letter of commitment to ensure that the city will provide $40,000 to help AIDS Help build 50 apartments at Poinciana Plaza.

* The commission will hear and vote on the second reading of an ordinance that prohibits companies from using electric cars and other vehicles for the purposes of advertising. The intent is to alleviate parking problems in the downtown Clinton Square area, where electric cars park at meters all day while soliciting customers to rent them.

The commission meets Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.