Board hears early rebuild option for Boltin Center

Thelma A. Boltin Center in Gainesville
The Thelma A. Boltin Center in Gainesville. (Photo by Seth Johnson)
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Gainesville Historic Preservation Board heard and saw a design sketch to move forward with a rebuild of the Thelma A. Boltin Center, but city project manager Pete McNiece said the city still only has two bad options. 

“What we have is two bad options right now,” McNiece said at the Tuesday meeting. “We were proceeding with a renovation of the building once we encountered all the structural problems.” 

The city stopped renovation and considered a tear down and replace option that earned commission support. 

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The renovation path will be expensive. In April, the city said it paid a firm $5,000 a month just to keep the roof secure. And the rebuild option would destroy the 1942 building even as it plans to construct a duplicate—leaving two bad options.  

McNiece introduced the board to the third party leading the way for the replacement option—Jason Jensen, president of WJ Architects. He also said the city has opened dialogues with stakeholders of the center, including groups that use the space for dance events.  

The other third party, studying the cost to renovate instead of rebuilding, will finish in the next six weeks, according to McNiece, and give its presentation on Nov. 1.  

Welcome sign to Thelma A. Boltin Center
Photo by Seth Johnson The welcome sign outside the Thelma A. Boltin Center.

Jensen said the main auditorium of the Boltin Center would be rebuilt exactly as it stands but without the internal structural issues—same materials, same color, same sloped roof and same window arrangement.  

The inside will also present a mirror image of the current auditorium.  

The only difference, Jenson said, would be a slightly longer building to add a green room and other backstage space. However, the adjoining wing to the auditorium would differ from what stands today.  

Instead of coming off at an angle, the wing would attach perpendicular to the auditorium, giving lobby space and the option to use a multipurpose room independent of the main room. Jenson said the current 8,300-square-foot building design prevents multiple groups from holding events at the same time.  

The preliminary sketch also shows the wing stylized differently, more modern and without the same features as the existing wing. Jenson said everything in the design can change, and board members said it should.  

“We’re seeking harmony not trying to make it look like it was always there,” Board Member Bill Warinner said. “But the little glimpse that we had today did not suggest harmony with the auditorium. 

Other board members echoed the comment.  

Jenson said the plans would push the center a little further off the roadway and also open up a park space. He said the foundational outline of the old wing would remain as a reminder of how the orientation used to lay. 

During public comment, multiple residents spoke in favor of a renovation option, saying the city should sign the check after letting it fall into poor condition. 

The city bought the center—used as a club catering to troops during World War II—in 1946 for $12,500 and named it in honor of Boltin who served as the first director.  

A timeline on the Boltin Center made by the City of Gainesville:  

  • 2000 – Thelma Boltin Center is last renovated. 
  • Aug. 2019 – Gainesville City Commission approves a comprehensive renovation of the center. 
  • March 2020 – Center closes due to the pandemic. 
  • Dec. 2020 – City staff discovers a portion of the roof over the center’s auditorium appears collapsed and hires a structural engineering firm to assess the damage and secure the roof. 
  • Nov. 2021 – Firm finds structural damage to the center and recommends either demolition and replacement of the auditorium or demolition of the entire building. 
  • April 2022 – Gainesville City Commission directs staff to work with WJA and the Historic Preservation Board on a plan for the property. 
  • Spring-Summer 2022 – City staff gathers input from stakeholders and provides updates at monthly Historic Preservation Board meetings on May 3, July 5 and August 8. 
Thelma A. Boltin Center historical sign
Photo by Seth Johnson The Thelma A. Boltin Center Florida Heritage site sign.

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I used to teach CPR classes there in the 80’s and 90’s it is a great old building. It is shame that over the last few decades it has been let to go to such shape.