Hurst: Thelma Boltin Center should be repaired, not rebuilt

Letter to the editor

The Gainesville City Commission’s plan to “partially restore” the Thelma Boltin Center is more of a demolition plan than a restoration plan.

I personally favor the fourth option – replace the roof, fix any damaged trusses, fix the air conditioning, and reopen the building.

I favor that plan for two reasons:

1) Cost difference – The City projected about $450k to fix the safety problems and reopen, compared to estimates of over $5 million for the “partial restoration” or replacement plans.

City staff noted that further maintenance may be needed on the existing building down the road. That is true of any building – whether a historic building or a new building. Roofs and air conditioners begin wearing out as soon as they are placed in service – whether on a new building or on the current one.

The lower price tag associated with reopening the current building – $450k – will leave more money for any future repairs, while a new building could have substantial cost overruns during construction.

2) Availability – When prior buildings have been demolished, often the replacement building takes years or decades, or is not rebuilt at all. An example is the planned Environmental Education Center at Cofrin Nature Park. The house that was already on the property when the park opened in 2005 was intended to be the Environmental Education Center.

However, in 2015, the City demolished the house at Cofrin Nature Park due to concerns over foundation problems. They planned a new building, but eight years later, there is no Environmental Education Center at that nature park.

Matthew Hurst, Gainesville

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • Being very very close to someone who knows more than anyone else, that $450k number is impossible if the Florida Building Code were to be enforced like the city would do to a private individual.

    • I’ve been pulling permits to build in Gainesville, Alachua County, and neighboring counties since 1978. While the interpretation of building codes is not always cut and dried and requires judgement at times, nothing about Gainesville’s Building department is crooked, corrupt, or incompetent. Among the best inspectors and plans analysts I have worked with were with the City. Further, while some elements of the now state code are the result of overly cautious and lawyer driven input, most of it is very good sense and beneficial to the structural integrity of your building.

      • Sounds like this repair project is right up your alley, just make sure they give you a retainer in cash or gold. Don’t take a check.

    • Might be looking at a grandfather situation where an existing structure under the same continuous ownership is still under previous regs.

    • Thank you everyone for the comments!

      My understanding is the buildings generally operate under the code they were built under – a grandfather clause. Given that the state building code changes every few years, otherwise buildings would have to be torn down and rebuilt every few years.

      If renovations equal more than 50% of the value, then the entire building has to operate under the current building code, hence the high > $5 million price tag of Options 1-3.

      Buildings commonly replace entire roofs and repair or replace air conditioners without tearing down the old structure and rebuilding. That is Option 4 and what should happen here.

      • Whatever work is being done must comply with modern code, but existing conditions not being changed which are not safety issues don’t.

  • Mr. Hurst, very spot on observation . It like the Movie” Ground Hog Day”, but with a different issue . The outcome is always the same. Wasting money and somehow ,in their shallow minds philosophically justifying it. If they keep it up they will loose even more authority on money matters and be fired , just like the GRU Debacle that is a National Disaster economically . Yet they Party on!

    • Wild, politically motivated attacks aside, GRU has not defaulted and enjoys a higher credit rating than FPL.

  • Excellent overview of a simple solution. Spend less and get the same or better results. 🙂

  • If it’s for event activities, why not inventory existing facilities — public and private — including some that have opened since TBC closed? The city politicians have an automatic urge to keep trying to prop up downtown, which would be OK if their other policies (funded woke, crime and homeless/addict magnets) weren’t hurting that area too. Save $5+million for something else.

  • It’s a very historic building, and one which gets little or no publicity as an event venue. I worry that a “rebuild” will destroy some of that history.

  • Who is going to line their pockets with this $5million? this should be put up to vote by the tax payers.

  • This reminds me of an old construction joke where a worker was looking at his hammer, saying it was his grand-father’s and was very sentimental over it. He went on to state over the years he’s had to replace the head twice and the handle three times but, yeah, that was dear old grand-pappy’s favorite hammer (something tells me I’d have to explain this joke to the commission members).

    If you’re going to demolished everything but two walls as well as change the footprint then there’s basically nothing “historic” left.

    And to anyone thinking the city should be concerning about the price tag well, Ward went out of his way to point out Wild Spaces Public Places is footing the bill; like this decision somehow won’t count against them in Tallahassee.

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