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Architect: Make historic high school a cultural arts community center
Monday, 07 December 2015 22:15

Updated: 3:45 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, 2015 | Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015
By Alexandra Seltzer - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

BOYNTON BEACH —
About 20 Boynton Beach residents this week got a sneak peek at the plans an architect is proposing to save the city’s vacant historic high school from the bulldozer.
The plan is to make the Ocean Avenue school into a cultural arts community center, and it was well received by the group. But, it’s up to the City Commission to decide whether the project will move forward.
Commissioners are expected to decide in January after architect Rick Gonzalez presents his ideas at a City Commission meeting. If the commission doesn’t like the idea, it could be time for the long-discussed demolition.
But Gonzalez thinks he has a chance.
“I hope to see this finally get done,” he said at the city library Thursday evening. The residents who attended the presentation — including Commissioner Mike Fitzpatrick — have joined together with a passion of saving the school.
After years of going back and forth, commissioners in early August voted to demolish the 1927 building. But then Gonzalez asked them in mid-August for time to come up with a plan and money to save it. He was given four months.
The physical plan seems to be near complete, but on Thursday, Gonzalez was tight-lipped on the money and called the financial part “challenging.” Protecting the building from further damage will cost about $600,000. Restoring the building to make it open to the public would be about $6 million, Gonzalez said.
He’s still hoping that a donor will come through like what happened for West Palm Beach’s Harriet Himmel Theater. Harriet Himmel contributed $3 million to the renovation.
Gonzalez’s plan is to make the project a public-private partnership with help from the Community Redevelopment Agency, the city, and investors. An investor Gonzalez is in talks with says he would want to create an adjacent $10 to $11 million development of apartments and commercial use along with a parking garage.
As far as the high school building, Gonzalez envisions tearing down the Art Center, the Civic Center and the theater and bringing all of the programs and activities that are held in those buildings into the high school.
There would be commercial uses at the southwest and southeast first floor corners of the building. One could be a cafe or coffee shop type of business that also does catering. The other could be for some type of history or cultural organization such as a historical society that would also have a gift shop. Those two spaces would be rented out.
The building would also be home to summer camps, an art gallery and it would have a lot of glass doors and windows into rooms so visitors can see what’s happening throughout the building.
There would be a children’s music room, a room for the moms and their children, and a space for teens like a teen lounge or youth leadership. There would be room for children’s activities such as cheerleading, dance, gymnastics and karate.
Gonzalez would put in a new elevator and handicap ramp, and would restore the bathrooms.
The theater would move into its own space in the building and Gonzalez sees it even hosting jazz and blues performances with a neon sign hanging off the building at a side door. The theater would pay rent also.
On the second floor, Gonzalez envisions more arts programs, room for adult dance classes, and space for the Gold Coast Band, which performs at the Civic Center. The gymnatorium would be open for uses such as weddings, sporting events, City Commission meetings, concerts, lectures, outside business meetings, movies, and an indoor green market.
As part of the plan, Gonzalez would keep the historic bleachers, but modify them to be able to add tables and chairs on the floor. He’d also restore staircases.
Gonzalez said if the project does happen, it could be used as an example to other places that are working to restore historic buildings.
But as for Boynton, Gonzalez said, it’s time.
“This has to become a nucleus, a center for community activity,” Gonzalez said.

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