By Steve Plunkett
Work to rebuild the hugely popular observation tower at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, which has been missing in action since early 2015, should begin in September.
The new tower will be constructed with composite wood decking, rather than natural timber, but otherwise will be a replica of the 40-foot original.
Fort Pierce-based Custom Marine Construction Inc. won the $1.1 million project, which includes demolishing and rebuilding the south loop of the nature center’s boardwalk.
Environmental concerns led to a rerouting of the boardwalk so it will not intrude into the mangroves on the east bank of the Intracoastal Waterway.
“It skims the area without actually going into it,” Gumbo Limbo manager Leanne Welch said, adding that the existing loop never received environmental permits.
“I think one of the big questions I’ve heard is, ‘Where’s the tower? When is it coming back?’ ” said Robert Rollins, chairman of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which will reimburse the city for the expense.
The entire boardwalk and the observation tower were closed to the public in February 2015 after engineers warned they were near collapse. District and city officials dithered for months over who would supervise the project, with the district finally keeping control.
Work on the first phase of the boardwalk started in May 2016 and was finished the following December. It cost almost $631,000.
While construction was underway, the city decided it would oversee rebuilding the tower and the second phase of the boardwalk. It hired a different consultant, had new plans drawn up and received bids on the project last May.
The city owns Red Reef Park, which includes the nature center; the Beach & Park District reimbursed the city for its purchase of the land and pays for all operations and capital improvements there.