Voncile Smith, second vice president of the Boynton Beach Historical Society, protests the proposed demolition
of the 1927 Boynton Beach High School building.
Joe Skipper/The Coastal Star
By Jane Smith
Public outcry and a proposal from a respected architect appeared to sway Boynton Beach city commissioners who reversed their early August decision to demolish the city’s historic high school.
At the city’s Aug. 4 commission meeting, three commissioners voted to demolish the school. Two weeks later, on Aug. 18, they agreed unanimously to give it a four-month reprieve.
The would-be savior came in the form of well-known preservation architect Rick Gonzalez of REG Architects in West Palm Beach. He said he was involved in four studies on the high school and gave his credentials as: immediate past president of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and the vice chairman of the Florida Historic Commission, which gave $150,000 for the Boynton Woman’s Club restoration.
He also said he was involved in the restoration of the 1914 County Courthouse. His firm was the architect of the renovated Lake Worth Casino complex and is one of the firms in arbitration with the city over defects in the casino building, according to Lake Worth’s city manager.
“We are ready to spend $50,000 of our money and time over the next four months, then come back in January and tell you what we think,” Gonzalez said.
He joins a grassroots group, with Barbara Ready, chair of the city’s Historic Resources Preservation Board, as one of its leaders.
Ready organized a rally for Aug. 15, telling everyone to wear a black top (black and gold were the high school’s colors) and make a sign that said, “This still matters,” copying the National Historic Trust’s slogan from 2009. About 70 people came, including some kids.
“We’re redoubling our efforts,” Ready said a week after the reprieve vote. “We are not going away because the city is working with an architect.”
Another resident, Anthony Pitre, made a GoFundMe.com/SaveBoyntonHigh site that raised more than $2,500 as of Aug. 31 with the goal of creating a nonprofit corporation. His subgroup is called, “Show me the money committee.” He has contacted a roofer, he said, who offered to cover the building for free and a wealthy investor who would come in after the city sells to the group or gives it a long-term lease.
Just days after the Aug. 4 demolition vote, Jesse Feldman created an online petition that had 878 signatures as of Aug. 31.
Commissioner Mike Fitzpatrick also is helping to organize the grassroots group. He offered his parents’ vacant home as a meeting place and donated $500 to the cause. His idea for reusing the high school is to create a history lesson on Boynton Beach education on the first floor.
The front part could be set up as a classroom; the middle part as a memorial to all the schools lost in the city including Poinciana Elementary, his former junior high school that became Galaxy Elementary, Seacrest High School that is now a grassy lot and Plumosa and St. Mark Catholic School. The back part could be used as an exhibit of Palm Beach County Schools segregation and integration.
“That is a history story that needs to be told. I have no problem with it being raw and honest,” he said. “For instance, who and why, at the height of the civil rights movement, named a school after Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy and a slave owner?”
City Manager Lori LaVerriere urged other interested parties to see her to complete an application for an unsolicited proposal.
The Boynton Beach High School was added to the city’s list of historic places in February 2013. It was designed by prominent school architect William Manly King, who used features from the Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco styles, according to the Boynton Beach Historical Society.
The building served as a high school from 1927 to 1949, as an elementary school and junior high school until 1990, and as a school for students with special needs until at least 1996.
Voncile Smith, second vice president of the Historical Society, said at the Aug. 18 commission meeting, “I am probably the only person in this room who attended high school at that building when it was still a high school. I just wanted to get up and say I’m pleased [that it appears] it is going to survive.”
At the Aug. 4 commission meeting, three commissioners voted to demolish the historic high school.
At that meeting, Vice Mayor Joe Casello said, “Let’s take the emotional factor out of this. It’s a structure. It’s two-by-fours. It’s nails. It’s concrete.” At the Aug. 18 meeting, he apologized for making that statement.
Commissioner Mack McCray voted to demolish the high school, saying black history wasn’t saved when the Poinciana School was torn down. The city didn’t own that building at the time it was destroyed, the School Board did. He later said his vote was not done in retaliation and was not forced but looking out for Boynton taxpayers.
After voting to demolish the historic high school on Aug. 4, Mayor Jerry Taylor said, “It’s an old building, it’s not historic.” On Aug. 18, he said, “Nothing forces me on my votes for this community, but I will say I do listen.”
At the start of the Aug. 18 meeting, Casello added an agenda item about the historic high school. “I believe the commission’s vote of 3-2 was one of controversy. It sparked people to get off their backsides and stand up for what they perceive Boynton’s history legacy to be,” he said.
A lawsuit on the historic high school use remains open after the city’s motion to dismiss was heard in mid-August. The judge had not ruled as of Aug. 31.