By Jim Manfre
Sheriff’s Office employees have documented serious health problems after being placed in a building that had sat and rotted for over a decade, filled with contaminants. Now that the issues that have plagued the purchase of the old Flagler Memorial Hospital are before the public again, it is time to examine how we arrived at this place.
The former Sheriff’s Operation Center that was built in 1992 on Justice Lane in Bunnell was overcrowded when I became sheriff in 2001. It required using trailers and leased space to accommodate the staff needed to service a population that grew by over 50 percent in four years. The Flagler County Commission and county administrator missed an opportunity to deal with these issues in 2002 when they chose to build a new courthouse, an Emergency Operation Center (EOC) and a Government Services Building that housed the school district and elected officials, without also building a new Sheriff’s Operation Center.
Although a new operation center was designed then as an additional wing of the courthouse complex, it was not implemented. Instead a 25,300 square foot EOC was built for $5.5 million.
In 2011, the County Commission finally decided to construct a new Sheriff’s Operation Center and a new inmate facility. When I became sheriff in 2013, the county’s plan was to place the Sheriff’s Operation Center in the old courthouse annex and build out twenty-six thousand square feet. The county decided to give the building to the City of Bunnell instead of utilizing it for the Sheriff’s Office. This began a process to select an alternate site. The old Bunnell Police Department building owned by the county and across the street from the courthouse and Government Services Building was proposed as a location to build a new Sheriff’s Operation Center.
I fully supported this proposal as a low-cost, common-sense solution. Inexplicably, the County Commission voted this location down by a 3-2 vote. Several Commissioners suggested that the EOC be considered as a possible choice as the Sheriff’s Office Communications Center was already located in the building. I endorsed this concept as another low-cost alternative. The idea was rejected by County Administrator Craig Coffey.
The next conversation involved the purchase of the old hospital. I was adamant from the outset that this was a bad choice as the county had rejected this property 10 years before because of its poor condition and the requirement to spend money on acquiring the property and a building that needed to be demolished. Over my objection, the county purchased the property and although staff, multiple commissioners and I recommended that all the buildings be demolished and a new building constructed, county administrator insisted that the buildings remain and be renovated.
After occupying the newly renovated Sheriff’s Operations building for several months, a distinctly foul odor began to emanate from the east side of the building closest to the old patient wings of the hospital that remained standing. This was reported to the county. An inspection of the patient wings revealed that it was full of mold, rotting debris and was being occupied by vagrants.
In early 2016, I made a request to the county administrator to have the old patient wing buildings demolished due to the potential dangerous conditions and fire hazard it presented. My repeated requests were ignored. Eventually, under Sheriff Staly’s administration, the sheriff requested that the patient wings be demolished. The county administrator directed county staff to take down the building without first obtaining a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which would have ensured the proper procedures were used to demolish, remove and dispose of the potential hazardous material. It was not long after this occurred that the serious health problems of the employees began to appear.
So where do we go from here? It is clear that the present Sheriff’s Operation Center needs to be abandoned immediately until such time that the county can properly determine it is safe for occupancy. The men and women who work in this building everyday deserve the county’s immediate attention.
Jim Manfre was Flagler County Sheriff in 2001-04 and 2013-16.
Cost Comparisons: The Seven Options As Presented By The County in 2013
|Courthouse Annex||Old Jail||Old Hospital||Old Hospital if Demolished and Rebuilt||GSB South of the EOC Building||GSB South of Circular Road||GSB East Courthouse Wing|
|Property Purchase Cost (*)||None||None||$1,230,000||$1,230,000||None||None||None|
|Architect, Permits etc.||$250,000||$400,000||$400,000||$400,000||$400,000||$400,000||$400,000|
|Brick Facade Work||$100,000||None||None||None||None||None||None|
|Structural Upgrades (**)||$300,000||None||$450,000||None||None||None||None|
|Transportation Impact Fees (***)||None||$15,000||None||None||$25,000||$25,000||$25,000|
|Water and Sewer Impact Fees||None||$10,000||None||None||$25,000||$25,000||$25,000|
|Wetland and Floodplain Mitigation||None||$50,000||None||None||$100,000||$300,000||None|
(**)Bringing structures to 141 mph windload.
(***) Scheduled to be back in effect in Oct. 2014.
Source: Flagler County Administration.