Boynton Beach: CRA steps back from spending on high school

By Jane Smith

    The fate of the historic Boynton Beach High School, which seemed certain to be saved earlier this year, is unsettled again.
    At the Aug. 17 budget meeting of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, city commissioners sitting as the CRA board did not want to commit to spending money on the high school now. A majority wanted to wait to see how development teams would use it in their Town Square plans.
    They will review the request for proposals for the Town Square plans at the Sept. 8 commission meeting, before the project is advertised.
    The decision did not sit well with the group of residents dedicated to seeing the historic structure saved. Barbara Ready, who also chairs the city’s Historic Resources Preservation Board, is urging residents to send emails to the commissioners in support of the high school.
She wants to see the entire building saved, not just the front, which she called a “façade-ectomy.”
    Mayor Steven Grant proposed using $185,450 remaining in this year’s Town Square budget to start work on the old high school now.
    That money will be held over into the next budget year to evaluate the financial soundness of the development teams’ plans, said CRA Executive Director Vivian Brooks.
    The $100,000 federal matching grant the CRA received for the high school is not available until Oct. 1, Brooks said. Then the County Commission would have to approve the grant, she told the CRA board members.
    Commissioner Justin Katz was not for spending any money on the high school until the city knows how it can be reused in the plans.
    “I’m not interested in spending a penny on it unless we know how we will save it,” he said. “We would be remiss to spend the [grant] money until we know 100 percent what we will do with the high school.”
    He called the April decision about the high school “a consensus, not a vote.”
    Commissioner Christina Romelus, who favored saving the high school after she was elected in March, now prefers to wait until the development teams return their plans for Town Square.  The city manager said that would be in December. An old lawsuit may complicate the city’s strategy.
    The judge still has not ruled on the city’s motion to dismiss, heard on July 11. It involves a 2013 case filed by an earlier architect who wanted to use the high school as an events center.
In April, the City Commission was concerned that using $20,000 that REG Architects and partners offered to hire a financial consultant to review the soundness of their plan would compromise the city’s  position in the lawsuit. That item was tabled until the city knows the outcome of the motion to dismiss.
    When asked how the open lawsuit would affect the city’s plans for Town Square, the response from the city spokesperson was, “Litigation pending, no comment.”

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