By Joe Capozzi
South Palm Beach Town Council members are poised to take another look at a project they’ve debated for more than five years — what to do with their aging Town Hall.
Four firms are interested in doing a feasibility study on whether to renovate the existing 45-year-old building or construct a new facility.
At the council’s next meeting on Aug. 17, Town Manager Robert Kellogg will make a recommendation on which firms to interview.
The firms that responded to a July 29 deadline for a Request For Qualifications are: CPZ Architects in Jensen Beach, Synalovski Romanik Saye Architects in Fort Lauderdale, Alexis Knight Architects in Boynton Beach, and Song + Associates in West Palm Beach.
If and when the council votes to hire a firm, it will mark the fourth time in six years, and the first time since March 2020 that the town will debate the future of Town Hall.
“The can has been kicked down the road for several years and I am hoping with the proposals we get and evaluate, we can make a recommendation to council and move this thing forward once and for all,’’ Kellogg said.
The existing Town Hall was constructed in 1976 as a public safety building and has evolved with additions built in 1993 and 1996.
The council’s first attempt at dealing with the building’s problems came in 2016 with the hiring of Alexis Knight Architects. The firm spent months studying the building, and interviewing administrative staff and residents, leaving the town with a bill for about $50,000.
The architects’ report filed the next year uncovered numerous deficiencies and code violations, and concluded with a proposal that the town replace the hall with a five-story, $6 million multiuse building.
The council quickly and unanimously shot down the idea as far too extravagant.
A second report, filed in 2018 by North Palm Beach architect John Bellamy for $5,000, recommended “adaptive reuse” of the building. Bellamy cited many of the problems uncovered by Alexis Knight, but concluded that the structure could be upgraded and repaired.
In March 2020, the council agreed to focus on the Bellamy report before the pandemic lockdown scuttled that plan. A year later, as the town started phasing out of the lockdown, officials decided “maybe we ought to take a fresh look at having someone else come in,’’ Kellogg said.
The overriding decision awaiting the council is whether to try to improve the building or tear it down and build a structure from the ground up.
If a new firm is hired, one of its duties will be to reach out to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Palm Beach County Fire Rescue about participating in, and contributing construction money for, the project.
Seven deputies are stationed at South Palm Beach Town Hall.
The town gets fire rescue service from county crews stationed at Manalapan Town Hall. An option would be to move them to a new South Palm Beach Town Hall, unless that cost turns out to be prohibitive.
Fire rescue officials recently told the town the department has no money in its five-year budget for capital improvements.
Since 2016, the town has spent about $55,000 on studying the idea. But Kellogg said he is confident some form of the project will proceed this time.
“I think the realization has come that we need to do something with Town Hall,’’ he said. “I know all these council members are very fiscally responsible.’’
In other business, the council in July set a tentative tax rate of $3.54 per $1,000 of taxable value, the same as the current year’s rate. A budget workshop will be held at 2 p.m. on Aug. 31 and the first public hearing is set at 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 7.