By Jane Smith
The city will soon ask private firms to submit development plans for its four-block Town Square, the Boynton Beach City Commission decided in July.
Commissioners want the proposals to include the 1927 historic high school, the library, the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum and the amphitheater. The proposals also should contain a new City Hall and green space with entrance features at Ocean Avenue. City Hall would be moved off Boynton Beach Boulevard, considered premium development space.
The commission will entertain offers of moving the police headquarters and Fire Station No. 1 out of Town Square. Some possibilities discussed include: a combination building in the Heart of Boynton to help jump-start that area; a police headquarters built on city property on High Ridge Road adjacent to the Fire Rescue Emergency Operations Center; or a new Fire Station No. 1 built on AmeriGas property on Federal Highway, recently purchased by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
The most important thing, said Assistant City Manager Colin Groff, is for the commissioners to remain flexible in their request and “allow the market to drive the private uses.”
That’s why he suggested an option for the high school that would allow development teams to keep the façade and footprint or re-create the historical portions of the school.
That option did not sit well with the Save Boynton High group, which staged a rally last August when the then-mayor had called for the building’s demolition.
Group member, Susan Oyer, said she wants to see the high school contain civic uses from three other nearby city buildings — Civic Center, Madsen Center and the Art Center — that will be demolished. She also wants to allow commercial space for restaurants, art galleries, gift shops and event space for weddings, reunions and other receptions to take place there.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency recently received a $100,000 federal grant that it can use to help stabilize the high school. The grant has to be matched, which the CRA can do easily. Last fall then-Mayor Jerry Taylor directed the CRA to set aside $200,000 for demolishing the nearly 90-year-old building. He later changed his mind.
A snag could come from the outcome of a lawsuit filed by architect Juan Contin. In 2013, he sued the city after his plan to turn the high school into an event center was approved by the City Commission then denied by a zoning vote.
In arguing recently against the city’s motion to dismiss, his attorney David Sales called the Boynton Beach commission decision “goofy.” The case remains open in Circuit Court.
The City Commission will review the Town Square proposal in September before it is sent out to the development community. Then the commission will wait about six months for the teams to send in their proposals. It will be at least a year until shovels go in the ground, said City Manager Lori LaVerriere.
When the proposals return, then the city will know better what its costs will be for the new police headquarters and Fire Station No. 1, Groff said.
A combined headquarters and fire station would cost an estimated $30 million, a separate police headquarters building on High Ridge Road would cost about $28 million and a new fire station would cost about $5 million, according to city documents.
But costs could be lower depending on how the design teams propose developing Town Square, Groff said.
The commission would then decide how to pay for the public safety buildings, possibly through a general obligation bond or a revenue bond.