By Thomas R. Collins
Of all the tense exchanges over the years between city leaders and residents over whether to save the old Boynton Beach High School, it might be hard to find one more openly bitter than the one between Mayor Jerry Taylor and 50-year resident Victoria Costello recently.
“You could tear it down and build something as nice or better for less money than that,” Taylor said, to catcalls, as the commission considered a historic-preservation ballot item.
Costello came up to the microphone and scolded him.
“Don’t you ever say, ‘Tear down our history,’ ” she said. “What do you care about this city? … As far as you care, just rip it down.”
“That’s right,” Taylor told her.
“That’s disgusting,” Costello said.
“I’m sorry. That’s the way I feel,” Taylor replied.
Yes, the question of saving the school is as hot as ever.
Commissioners decided at their last meeting not to put on the ballot an item asking voters whether they’d be willing to spend $5.4 million on bonds to save the high school — a victory for preservationists, who feared the measure would never pass and who now have the time to put together a financial package to pay for the job instead.
“I believe that we should study this a little bit further and we should put the pieces together,” said Barbara Ready, chair of Save the Old School Space committee. “There’s a lot of funding out there available that we need to take advantage of before we go to the voters and ask them, in these times, to approve further debt.” She presented a rough proposal for turning the old high school into office, retail and cultural space, estimating that the job could be done for about $6 million, with a contribution of about $2 million from the city.
The bill could be paid for partly by tax credits and loan assistance, she said.
Not designating the entire building as cultural space means part of it would be generating revenue. But she urged the city to do a feasibility study to examine it more.
The 1927 building is on the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s 10 Most Endangered list. The vote not to put it to voters was 3-2, with Taylor and Commissioner Ronald Weiland voting no, saying the voters should decide.
“You’ve got to go ask them whether they want to go out and borrow the money right now and redo that building and if they want to, great, I’ll be a hundred percent behind them,” Taylor said. “The city doesn’t have the money.”
Weiland doubted that any plan would actually work.
“We’ve been beating this up for more than 10 years,” he said. “I don’t see it happening.”
Commissioner Jose Rodriguez, who made the motion to abandon the ballot item, said that the building can be saved if the effort is made.
“This is history,” he said, “and once you tear it down, you cannot rebuild it.”