By Rich Pollack
The long-awaited $850,000 renovation of Highland Beach’s Town Hall is finally underway. Construction crews began demolition late last month.
Expected to continue through the fall, the project is designed to unite the Police Department, which is now in separate building, and will include upgrades to the Town Commission chambers and other facilities.
As the construction continues, the Highland Beach Police Department will be working out of a trailer behind Town Hall, while most meetings usually held in the commission chambers have been moved to the library.
The majority of other town functions will not be directly impacted by the renovations.
“Despite the construction, we expect the level of disruption to be minimal,” Town Manager Kathleen Weiser said.
As a part of the project, a hallway that made it possible to access the town’s small post office by walking through Town Hall has been temporarily blocked. Visitors still can get there, however, by either driving or walking around the construction area.
In addition, the public will not have access to temporary police facilities, but visitors can go to the front desk of Town Hall during regular business hours and request that an officer or department representative meet them there. To minimize parking problems during the construction, the town has arranged for construction crews and some town employees to park at nearby St. Lucy Catholic Church.
“The church has been really good about helping us and we’re very appreciative,” Weiser said.
Town officials say that once completed, the renovations will improve efficiency and provide much-needed additional space for the Police Department. Previously, commission chambers and part of the Police Department were housed in an older building to the south, while administrative offices and the rest of the Police Department were housed is a building to the north.
The idea of renovating buildings and making more room for the Police Department first surfaced in the 2005-2006 budget, according to town officials, but it was later withdrawn. The project continued to be discussed over the years and was placed in the budget in 2010, but again funding never was made available.
New life was breathed into the project in 2012 when the town hired an architect to draw up plans. Town commissioners, however, delayed the project again that year during the budgeting process.
The current commission, in passing the 2013-2014 budget, agreed to take the estimated $850,000 for the project from reserve funds.
“These renovations will really make a big difference and make it possible for us to better serve the residents of Highland Beach,” Police Chief Craig Hartmann said.