The Gainesville City Commission decided on Thursday how construction will proceed on the Thelma A. Boltin Center following three years of uncertainty.
At the General Policy Committee, the commission voted unanimously for staff to begin a $5.6 million partial restoration option that will expand the square footage and keep only the south and west walls of the current building. The city’s Historic Preservation Board and staff recommended this route.
The Wild Space Public Places (WSPP) program will finance the project. Gainesville expects to receive $90 million through the one-cent surtax over the next decade.
Peter McNiece, WSPP project manager, presented four options for the commission to consider: complete replacement, partial restoration, complete restoration and repair of the existing facility.
The complete replacement would demolish the existing center and build a new center that mirrors the style and design of the center that was built in 1942. This option would provide 3,000 extra square feet, move the building slightly north to address drainage issues and cost around $5.6 million.
The partial restoration comes with the same price tag but around 500 fewer square feet compared to the complete replacement option. McNiece said the city would likely be able to address the drainage issues under this option, and program staff said an expanded center will benefit community groups who use the space.
The complete restoration option would keep the full historical integrity of the building exterior while improving bathrooms and accessibility components. While staff listed $5.4 million as the cost, McNiece said the option has the most uncertainty. Once walls and floors are peeled back, workers could run into issues that raise the price to around $6.2 million.
This option has the highest cost per square foot, but because the building would remain around 9,000 square feet, the $5.4 million estimate stayed comparable with the first two options.
The last possibility would simply attach a new roof and trusses, looking to open the facility for public use as soon as possible. McNiece said the option is designed as a band-aid and not a way to keep the center viable for decades of use.
Commissioner Reina Saco said the usefulness of the center is severely limited by the space and supported the partial restoration option that would bring additional square footage.
Following a motion by Commissioner Bryan Eastman and second by Saco, the commission voted unanimously to move forward.
The last renovation was done on the building in 1999, and facilities staff requested a new roof in 2019. However, after the city commission approved a $2 million renovation plan in 2020, staff found a structural fault in the roof that stopped all progress and required hiring a team to shore up the building.
Since then, the city has worked to decide how to move forward.