Bunnell’s bad luck with water, mold and inclement city halls continue.
Less than seven years ago the city thought it had finally found a permanent home of its own when it moved into the 12,000 square foot former charter school at 201 West Moody Boulevard. Now, the city is again vacating City Hall and putting the building up for sale as water intrusion and mold buildup has made it all but uninhabitable.
Bunnell government is going to spend at least the next two years using the Government Services Building’s chambers for its meetings–again–as it waits for a deal to go through on acreage on Commerce Boulevard, where it hopes to build its new city hall for what City Manager Alvin Jackson estimates will cost $7 million. The city has put out a $228,000 contract on a 2-acre parcel there, owned by Oare Associates (which owns most of the land there), immediately across the street from First Baptist Church and behind Wendy’s. The city is conducting due diligence, with a closing planned for November.
The Bunnell Police Department will be moving to modular, or temporary, buildings–two modular sets sealed as one building–on county land behind the GSB, between the Emergency Operations Center and the county’s maintenance building. That will cost $62,000. Bunnell will pay the county a lump sum of $20,000 for electricity, WiFi and water service to the modular building, and an additional $250 a month for internet services. “No prisoners or evidence will be housed or stored at the Police Department Site,” the city’s agreement with the county states.
Other city offices, including that of the city manager and the city clerk, will operate out of the Commerce Business center on Old Moody Boulevard, behind the Chicken Pantry. The city is renting two such storefront offices for $800 a month each, or an annualized cost of $19,200. That move started in March when customer service, utility billing and other services moved there, when the city was thinking of the move as temporary, and the City Hall problems as still repairable.
On Monday, the Flagler County Commission will consider–and likely approve–an agreement with Bunnell, allowing the city to use the GSB’s chambers and first-floor conference room for its meetings, though the county and school board, which share the GSB, will still have priority on suing either space.
The city commission and the administration have been wrestling with the problem for the past several months, finally deciding to leave the property. “The attorney and city manager all met with us individually, and gave us the what for and the what what, and Jackson’s concerns as the health of the staff,” City Commissioner John Rogers said. “He has lived it, he said he has lived this nightmare before.” Jackson went through a sick-building issue as an administrator in lake County previously.
The city experienced the same water-borne scenario in May 2009 when it was forced to vacate the old coquina-constructed city hall behind the old courthouse, also because of water intrusion. The city spent five years squatting at the Government Services Building and exploring various possibilities until county government gave it an ultimatum: leave the GSB or start paying rent. That was after Bunnell unconvincingly took possession of the old courthouse as a donation from the county, which it imagined as a perfect city hall in the heart of the city, only to return it after worrying about water intrusion and liabilities there, to the county’s dismay. (The old courthouse has since been rented to a Christian school.)
Within weeks of that fiasco Bunnell agreed to buy the West Moody Boulevard property, despite warnings that its age and its roof might be an issue. Mayor Catherine Robinson was vehemently against the deal. “This board trashed flat roofs terribly as far as the courthouse went, and you’re getting ready to consider buying a building that has a flat roof,” Robinson said at the special meeting in June 2014 when the commission voted 3-1 to buy the property. “And it’s old.” She had added: “We had concerns about the courthouse and I’ve got concerns about what this is going to cost, just because I know about old buildings, and I’ve lived many a day in that old building that looks good now.”
Robinson, it turns out, was dead on.
“Well, it was pretty true wasn’t,” Robinson said this morning of her vote in 2014. “If you stay on the board long enough, this stuff comes back to haunt you.”
“The administration building we’re in basically has some severe roofing issues,” Jackson said this morning. “It is a flat roof and something that we have been trying to do maintenance and repairs on. We just could not get it there.” The roof leaked. Before the latest attempts at mitigation, the administration conducted air-quality tests. “We weren’t pleased with the numbers. We did find mold, mildew, the skin of the building is letting moisture in, has been letting moisture in along with the roof issues, water sitting in this sub-roof, which you can’t see. When we did the analysis, the numbers weren’t good. So before individuals really became impacted, I thought it was very important to move quickly and get them out of this situation. The worst area was the utility building and customer service area, and we immediately got them out of the area. That was the north side of the building.”
The building had previously been the Heritage Charter School. The city bought it in 2014 for $600,000 and was projecting a total buildout cost of $1 million, including $76,000 for roof repairs. The city did so after having to vacate its previous City Hall in May 2009 at the coquina building near the old courthouse, also because of water intrusion. The city took out a loan to buy the property. It still has an outstanding balance of $493,000. This week, the city issued a request for proposal from potential buyers for the property, with a floor of $700,000. The city is hoping that the building sells so it can use the proceeds toward the new city hall. “It’s a prime site, depending on who gets it, whether or not they retrofit some of the buildings or demolish them, we don’t know,” Jackson said.
“We have a plan, and we’re working our plan,” Robinson said, making a distinction between the situation in 2009, when the city vacated its spaces without a plan, and now. “We have a wonderful finance director and great leadership staff under the direction of Mr. Jackson. He presented the plan on how to work through this. Obviously it’s very difficult, but I remember when we did the upgrade on the water plant. I had the same feeling about that and how we were going to manage it.” But the city got low-interest loans and grants tp pay for it. “We’re trying to mitigate as much as we can so the taxpayers don’t absorb all this, through the grants, but we have no choice.”
Jackson went through the exact same scenario himself in Lake County, where the courthouse developed sick-building syndrome and employees became ill. Courthouse files had to be “cooked” one by one to demolish the mold they contained, he recalled. “So I went through what I’ll call the pain of individuals not feeling well and the difficulty of trying to find out what was wrong.”
Jackson said the discussions right now, assuming the land deal on Commerce Boulevard sticks, is whether to build two one-level buildings–one for the police department, one for the administration–or one two-story building. The city needs 17,000 to 20,000 square feet in total, itself a considerable upgrade from its current location. Either way, it’ll be a metal building, Jackson said, speeding up the process.
By way of silver linings, a further benefit to the Commerce Parkway location: since Bunnell’s City Hall will go up within eyesight of the new Sheriff’s Operations Center, Jackson, Robinson and Rogers see the projects as boons to the city’s long-running hopes of turning Commerce Parkway into a bypass to U.S. 1. That plan has been in the conceptual phase for over a decade, though it hasn’t always been embraced. Robinson says that’s not her priority anyway, at the moment: the priority is to get City Hall and a watewater treatment plant built.
“I really don’t know where the city would be if we did not have the experience and expertise of Mr. Jackson as city manager,” Robinson said. She looked back over 20 years. “I have to tell you it gives me great comfort with his 30-plus years of experience to be able to understand the problem and work through it, and of course he has a great leadership team that’ been awesome through all this as well.”
Robinson added: “I look at this stuff and I have sleepless nights over these very issues, because you don’t see them coming, and here they are. And the thing is, I didn’t vote for this building but the people who did aren’t on the board and now I have to deal with it.” Rogers was on the board at the time and voted for the purchase in 2014, as did Elbert Tucker and Bill Baxley.
“My decision was based on the information that we were given by the city manager then Larry Williams and the staff at that special meeting and the cost was in line with what the city could afford,” Rogers said today. “The price for the complex was very reasonable.”