By Jane Smith

While Delray Beach residents were meeting about the future of Old School Square, Boca Raton Museum of Art officials who were getting a second look at operating Delray’s Cornell Art Museum decided they were no longer interested in the gig for now.
After kicking aside the Boca Raton museum’s proposals for the Cornell at their April 5 meeting, city commissioners reversed themselves June 14 and told City Manager Terrence Moore to begin new discussions with the museum’s representatives.
But Boca Raton museum leaders decided June 23 that “this is not the right time to take on the management of the Cornell Museum,” Irvin Lippman, executive director, wrote in a June 27 email to The Coastal Star. He said he had also told Moore.
“We realize many renovations still need to take place on the OSS campus,” Lippman wrote. “Still, more importantly, there is significant work to be done by the City to reach an undivided consensus about the arts in Delray Beach and what role OSS should play in the future.” 
On June 14, the City Commission also directed Moore and the city attorney to negotiate with Visual Adjectives, a mother-and-son team that now rents space at the Arts Warehouse in Delray Beach. The two want to host writing workshops and a literary festival on the Old School Square campus.
At the Delray Beach public forum held the night of the decision by Lippman’s board, participants talked about some of the things they wanted to see at Old School Square: Create better lighting throughout the campus; add more shade trees; provide a covering for outdoor concerts; host temporary public artworks; and have programs that appeal to the diversity of all city residents.
Nearly 60 attendees gathered at the Fieldhouse on the OSS campus for the forum, called a charrette. They wanted to see better signs on the grounds, local artists having display space in the Cornell, and possibly, having the museum host a Surfing Florida History exhibit that would reactivate the museum more quickly.
Moore said city staff would consult with the discussion leader, Tom Lanahan of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, about the suggestions. Moore planned to present a long-term vision for the campus in his weekly commission information letter on July 1. City commissioners will review the plan at their July 12 meeting.
The charrette was not streamed live and no city commissioners attended.
At the start, two men who are aligned with the previous campus operator, Old School Square Center for the Arts, tried to focus the discussion on “who” would run the downtown campus, instead of “what” the attendees want to see there.
“The who has to be defined before the what,” said Steven English, the registered agent of a new group, Friends of Delray, that supports the previous campus operators, known as OSSCA. The City Commission voted to end its relationship with OSSCA last year.
City Manager Moore stood steadfast at the charrette, redirecting the discussion to the “what” attendees wanted to see happen.
The attendees were divided into nine groups. Two of the people making presentations for their groups are board members of the former operator.
Patty Jones, the OSSCA board chairwoman, also mentioned keeping the grounds active with events, including yoga. Inside the Fieldhouse, her group wanted to see more activities for kids, along with the weddings and craft shows already held there.
Jim Chard, a former city commissioner and OSSCA board member, said it was important to have an organization that could attract donors and volunteers.
Lori Durante, a publicist and the daughter of a former city commissioner, said her group wanted to allow local artists to have exhibit space at the Cornell while hosting international art exhibits to increase attendance. She also talked about having more affordable ticket prices at Crest Theatre performances. “We need a financially sound operator,” she said.
Historic preservationist John Miller, whose group included Brian Cheslack, a lawyer who previously served on the OSSCA board, said the acoustics need to be fixed in the Fieldhouse, based on Cheslack’s input.
Suzanne Boyd, a former local TV news anchor and the new marketing manager for the Downtown Development Authority, proposed having a digital sign for Old School Square activities at the northeast corner of Swinton and Atlantic avenues.
Her group also asked for bocce ball courts, swing sets and other family activities. It did not want to see large festivals or big carnival rides on the Old School Square grounds.
The situation between the City Commission and the former operator erupted last August, after festering for years over the former operator’s finances.
City commissioners discovered the Crest Theatre was being renovated without their approval in July 2021. In addition, the bond documents for the work favored the contractor, not the city.
In August, the City Commission voted to end the lease with the former operator in 180 days on a 3-2 vote. Three months later, OSSCA sued the city, claiming wrongful termination of the lease.
“There was so much rancor from the previous tenant that many of our nonprofits were intimidated,” Commissioner Shirley Johnson said at the June 14 commission meeting.
Johnson, who was on the winning side of a 3-2 vote ending discussions with the Boca Raton art museum in April, changed her position June 14 to allow the discussions to start up again. Johnson explained her earlier vote as not understanding what the Boca Raton art museum was offering. She heard from Delray Beach residents who wanted to see the museum involved with Old School Square’s operations.
Now, before any new operator comes on board, the Cornell museum needs repairs before it can be activated.
It needs track lighting and security cameras that were removed by the previous tenants, said Laura Simon, the DDA’s executive director, at the June 14 commission meeting. She also said the adhesive from the tape used to mark the social distancing during the pandemic of the past two years had destroyed the finish on the hardwood floors in the museum.
While the Boca Raton art museum isn’t considering running the Cornell, Lippman said its leaders are willing to consult with the city’s Parks & Recreation Department on how to activate the grounds with public art while the buildings are being finished.
Commissioner Ryan Boylston’s idea for the Summer of Delray Arts fell apart because of the poor condition of the Cornell and because the nonprofits he expected to display at the museum said they wanted to be paid to put up exhibits there.
In other Delray Beach news, commissioners voted 4-1 on June 7 to increase the rates charged to properties served by the city’s water system starting July 1. It is the first time since 2009 that the city is raising water rates. Commissioner Johnson cast the dissenting vote, saying there may be other ways to raise the money for a new water treatment plant, estimated to cost about $125 million.
City water users will notice the first increase in their August bills. The average single-family home uses 6,000 gallons of water a month and will see rates rise by 5.36% to $60.93 from $57.83. The next increase will not occur until Oct. 1, 2023, when rates will rise an additional 6.11% to $64.65.

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