By Dan Moffett
Architect Steven Knight gave the South Palm Beach Town Council a conceptual drawing of what a new Town Hall might look like.
Now it’s up to the council and their constituents to decide whether to go forward and spend up to $6 million to replace their aging building.
Knight, of Alexis Knight Architects in West Palm Beach, presented council members a larger, taller and thoroughly more modern alternative to their current building during the Aug. 29 town meeting.
Knight’s proposed design has five floors and 22,500 square feet of floor space, about triple that of the current building. A public lounge is on the ground floor, the Police Department is on the second floor, administration is on the third, a community room on the fourth and council chambers on the fifth.
“It’s a beautiful design but it goes way beyond our needs,” Mayor Bonnie Fischer said. “It’s too much.”
“It is a grandiose building,” Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan said. “We don’t need five floors.”
In the weeks ahead, the council will be seeking input from residents and holding public workshops to gauge the support and the opposition to the proposal.
Knight said there is no way to satisfy parking requirements and maintain the Police Department on site without devising a multi-story design.
“We just don’t have the square footage,” says Town Manager Bob Vitas. “The only way we can go is straight up.”
Officials put the cost of constructing the new building at between $200 to $250 per square foot.
One of the toughest complications to overcome if the council decides to build a new hall would be finding a place to temporarily relocate the town’s Police Department and administrative employees. Possible solutions include trying to rent space across the bridge or at Plaza del Mar, and both options are problematic.
If council members decide to construct a new building, they would have to ask voters to approve a general obligation bond referendum during the March municipal election. Vitas said he thinks the $6 million price tag for a new building is a “worst-case” estimate. He thinks the project can be completed for less and the town could possibly obtain grant money to cover some of it.
So far, the town has about $49,000 invested in the idea — the bill paid to Knight for his architectural services.
In other business:
• Vitas said no matter whether the Town Hall or beach stabilization projects moves forward, one capital improvement that he wants to complete for sure in the next fiscal year is upgrading the street lights on A1A.
Council members say numerous complaints from residents about the inadequate lighting on the town’s main street make this project a priority. Vitas said he hopes to have new energy efficient lighting installed before the end of the year.
Vitas says another must-do project is building a sea wall behind the Town Hall parking lot. Erosion from the Intracoastal Waterway has worsened in recent years, eating away the shoreline and causing drainage problems. Work on that project is likely months away.
• During their budget workshop on Aug. 24, council members gave preliminary approval to a partial rate rollback for taxpayers. The council supported lowering the current tax rate of $4.12 per $1,000 of taxable property value to $3.99. A full rollback that would have kept tax revenues flat year-over-year would have dropped the rate to $3.87 per $1,000 of taxable value.
With the decreased rate, the total savings for the town’s taxpayers is about $43,000. The council approved a similar partial rollback last year. Public hearings on the proposed 2017-18 budget will be held on Sept. 7 and Sept. 12, both beginning at 5:30 p.m.
• With a 4-0 vote, the council approved the appointment of Lucille Flagello, 76, to fill the seat left open by her son, Joe Flagello, who died suddenly last spring.
The seat comes up for election in March.