By Jane Smith
The latest savior of the historic Boynton Beach High School attracted about 25 members of the grassroots group Save Boynton High to the city library on a stormy December night. They braved the weather to get a sneak peek at architect Rick Gonzalez’s plans to reuse the old school.
The group had invited Gonzalez to talk about his plans, said organizer Barbara Ready.
Gonzalez wants to turn the vacant structure into a community arts and civic center, which went over well with the group formed in August after the City Commission, which owns the school building, voted to demolish the nearly 90-year-old structure listed on the city’s historic inventory.
A well-known preservation architect, Gonzalez said he has done eight studies in 13 years on the old high school. He showed his latest plan individually in November to each city commissioner.
He wants to create “a nucleus for the community” by combining the uses in the Civic Center, Madsen Center (Stage Left Theater) and the Arts Center.
His vision includes:
• Two retail outlets at both corners on the front of the building that faces Ocean Avenue. A small coffee shop would be perfect, he says.
• The first floor would contain the children’s art and after-school programs; cheerleading, dance and karate programs; youth leadership separate from the teens group; and a space for community theater with a small stage in the rear.
• On the second floor would be adult programs such as dancing and arts along the front of the building. The gymnatorium would become a community center. It would host commission meetings, weddings and other celebrations that need 300 seats and include a “green room” for preparations. It could also host films and lectures with seating for 700 and other cultural events that need 700 seats.
• He also wants to widen the staircases, redo the restrooms and make them wheelchair-accessible, install an elevator and create a catering kitchen.
To stabilize the building would cost an estimated $525,000 to $600,000, Gonzalez said.
He wants the city to give his team the land and the high school to help create that vision. If the city were to create such a center, it would cost taxpayers millions, he said.
Ready’s group likes his plan because it renovates the old high school and puts it back on the tax roll.
A potential snag remains in the lawsuit filed by Juan Contin in 2013 against the city when it didn’t go forward with his plans to reuse the old high school as an events center. The city’s motion to dismiss was heard in August, but as of late December the judge has not ruled.
The Gonzalez plan also includes a possible investor who would build a three-story, L-shaped apartment building sitting on city-owned land at the southeast corner of Seacrest Boulevard and Northeast First Avenue. The 60,000-square-foot building would have 45,000 square feet of residential with 50 to 55 units and 15,000 square feet of retail space.
Ready does not like that aspect of his plan. The apartment building blocks the view of the high school when vehicles turn onto Seacrest Avenue from Boynton Beach Boulevard. “I want to see my old high school,” said Ready, who is chairwoman of the city’s Historic Resources Preservation Board.
Gonzalez will present his plan to the City Commission at its Jan. 19 meeting. At that meeting, commissioners will decide what’s next for the old high school — go forward with the Gonzalez plan, open it up to other developers, broaden it to include the entire 17-acre Town Center area or demolish the old high school.
As of press time, the city had spoken with several developers about Town Center, but none had put down the required $20,000 deposit to hire an outside consultant to review the plans, said Eleanor Krusell, city communication manager.
Gonzalez said the city also can issue a bond to cover the renovation costs or look for a moneyed donor who would like to see the high school renamed.
He cited The Harriet Himmel Theater in the CityPlace as an example. His firm helped to convert a Methodist church, built in 1926 in the Spanish Colonial architectural style, into a multiuse theater that can be rented for weddings, fashion shows and meetings.
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.
By Jane Smith