The two-year nightmare for the County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office that’s been the Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell came to an end today as the commission approved selling the building for $807,000 to the only buyer who bid for it, a loss of $423,000 from the $1.23 million the county paid for the building in 2013.
“This is a historical item, a historic moment in our county over the last few years,” County Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan said. The sale unloads a burdensome white elephant and political eyesore from the county’s inventory, if at a dear price, and preempts the need for the county to demolish the building and try to sell the property itself. The sale is to a corporation identified as GPR1 LLC, owned by Pamela and Gary Roberts of Flagler Beach, and in business since 2006, according to the Florida Division of Corporations. Gary Roberts is a builder.
There was little doubt that the county would have to absorb a loss in selling the building. Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the purchase.
The county still has a roughly $5 million debt on the building, a debt generated by the costs of rebuilding what had previously been a hospital. The county bought the building in a deal crafted by then-Administrator Craig Coffee after largely secretive negotiations. The building purchase was controversial even then, and approved only through a 3-2 vote, with innumerable questions raised by commissioners and others about the wisdom of the plan.
The controversy barely abated since as the purchase became a focus of ethics commission complaints over a commissioner’s conflict of interest in the purchase vote (the state ethics commission sustained the complaint and slapped a hefty fine). Controversies then turned to health problems as numerous sheriff’s employees developed breathing, skin and other medical issues, requiring them to be moved out of the building, and finally ending in the sheriff’s complete evacuation of the building more than two years ago. The sheriff moved much of his personnel to the county courthouse.
Several analyses of the building’s interior air and structure produced conflicting conclusions about the building’s safety, though deeper examinations of the building’s conditions behind walls, along rafters and beneath floor tiles, pointed to serious issues such as water intrusion, bat droppings and the use of wood rafters from the older version of the building that county officials had claimed had been removed. Coffey’s handling of the problem and further revelations undermined employees’ trust in the county, ruling out any return to the building either by the sheriff or by another government entity.
“No one on this commission created the mess that we find ourselves in,” Sheriff Rick Staly told commissioners this morning. “I wasn’t sheriff, you weren’t on the commission.” He noted one exception, Charlie Ericksen, who had been on the commission in 2013 but who voted against the purchase. “But it was your job to clean this mess up, and as a property owner, owns three properties in Flagler County, I don’t like the debt that we’re being saddled with either, but the reality is, it’s time to close the chapter, put it behind us, and that’s one of the reasons why you guys are faced with this today.”
Ericksen said he was under the impression one of the past owners of the building before the county’s 2013 purchase had also sought to buy back the structure, but the bid came in too late.
The sale, should it close, means the county is “out of it,” Holly Durrance, the county’s purchasing manager, said. “If the buyer would choose to back out they would forfeit their 5 percent deposit.”
The sheriff has removed all evidence and materials from within the building “with the exception of some gambling machines,” the sheriff said, “and they will be crushed on site this week, because a court just gave us the disposition order. That’s the only thing that’s left, has no value, other than I get to crush ‘em.”
Denise Calderwood, a candidate for the commission, said the commission was “passing the buck” to future commissions that may face liability from a property she inaccurately described as a brownfield. (Calderwood through Family matters of Flagler had sought to use part of the property as a social service hub several years ago.) “Yes we can wipe it under, we can sell it, we can do that, but there are going to be consequences,” she said, “pass the buck gentlemen, keep doing it.”
“There’s not been any determination that it’s a brownfield,” County Attorney Al Hadeed said. “Brownfield is a very regulated process by the federal and state government. It’s not a declared brownfield. All the tests, there were tests that were done prior to the acquisition. Assuming all those consultants did their test accurately, they have liability for those tests, there should not be any liability. We’re disclosing all the results of those tests, they’re being provided to this individual that has placed the bids, so there’s full knowledge.”
County Administrator Jerry Cameron said there’d not been a clear path to reusing the building even with all the studies and analyses conducted. “It is important to note that the CDC did not say that this was a building that was inherently contaminated and could never be revived,” he said of the Centers for Disease Control, which sent a team to analyze the building. “It gave some suggestions for things to do to improve the status. The problem the commission faced with that is that CDC report did not say that if you did those things, it absolutely would be habitable, so it would have been a risk to go forward, but the people that have been on it are fully aware of the risk.”
Commissioner Joe Mullins was the dissenter in the vote.
Always difficult deciding who to vote for. It is getting easier. If they are in office I say vote them out!!!!!!!
Agreed. Too much money wasted
A contractor bought it, will make the recommended repairs for maybe six figures and sell it for double the price, and the county gets stuck with the 5 million dollar debt. Oh, what a country!
This horrible deal and $500,000 debt will go down in Flagler history as the failed legacy of Sherriff Rick Staly and his employess for faking their way out of a building that was perfectly fine to remodel.
Helen: its a $5 million loss in the name of Coffee, not Staly. Machines(new contractors plan) don’t breath so they wont die like people do. I certainly doubt the Sheriffs’ employees were faking it. It wasn’t just a couple or a few, and the building tested positive for the mold anyway.
Would you want to work there? Or let your family and their kids work in a known infested building for 20 years? Probably not.
Staly walked into the death trap that was bought long before he arrived by corrupt politicians, some who made money off the deal from the first transaction.
Lay blame where it is due.
Next; The Sears building….. geez i could be here all day….
Fiscal Sanity says
The debt is so much more. The county borrowed $6.5 million dollars over thirty years to buy and renovate the old hospital. That will result in an additional five to six million dollars in interest. Plus the 15 million dollar cost for an new operation center and ten to fifteen million dollars in interest over thirty years. This is being done during a pandemic economic downturn.
This decision not to reoccupy the operation center that could have been remediated for less than a million dollars will continue to cost the county taxpayers for years so that Staly can have his name on a building
how do you know any of these people faked illness??? I know a few of them personally and they did not fake being sick. and though I am not a fan of Sheriff Staley, this mess was created prior to him becoming sheriff. It was Manfre who put us in this mess. And Staley is left with it. Speaking of remodeling, lets not forget Manfre also hired his wife to do the interior decorating for that same building. so if you want to point fingers, point them at Manfre!!!
James Manfre says
The county bought the land and building even thought they owned land across fromthe courthouse. The county decided not to demolish the existing buildings and build a new structure. The county decided to demolish the moldy patient wings while the operation center was occupied. The county chose the building contractor, the architect and the interior decorator. My wife helped me choose the colors in my office.
Excellent. New owner: little modifications and turn it into a mini data center with incumbent fiber feeds and a cross connect to the Fibernet. Data doesn’t care too much about mold spores in the air.
How long will we be paying for Craig Coffees mistakes???
Kinda like the old Timex saying – you know, ‘we take the licking while he keeps ticking’ or something like that . . .
In other words, we will pay for his negligence and malfeasance for as long as we remain taxpayers in Flagler County.
Jane Gentile- Youd says
Frederick I believe the county will CONTINUE to pay as long as the current county attorney is replaced by an attorney who is able to give advice and proper recommendations before any more costly screwups
Just another highly Public black eye to the Local Yocals in charge. PC Flagler just cant seem to shake the wishy washy drama laden all around poor decision making that seems to curse or haunt theirnear every move.
Land of no turn signals says says
This is Flagler that’s par for the coarse.It was probably costing tax payers $10,000 a month in landscaping,electric and lost taxes.Sears buliding?Buy high sell low what the hell it’s only tax payers money.
This is the way these county commission rips off the Flagler County and Palm Coast taxpayers and benefits the pockets of their buddies this is why all these incumbents need to be booted!
Highway robbery of our hard earned taxes! Vote them all out!
A. J. says
Big mess, financial loss. I do not think they thiught this purchase through. Look what happen. A big loss. Will the tax payers have to foot the bill for the loss. Someone answer if you can I do not know. Thanks.
Let’s be up front with the costs. Lied to again? How about the millions spent in the renovations? Trying to forget about them, or hid it under the rug. Let the taxpayers know the total real dollar cost you are trying to hide the whole county group needs to be thrown out office and replaced with worthy reps .
Denise Calderwood says
Check out the definition of a .”brownfield” and the county’s own FEED effort. (Flagler Economic Enhancement District” ) grant. A Brownfield is an abandoned underutilized property that has possible contaminants …. And we as taxpayers bought it that way, never tested it properly even though the County had $750,000 in a Brownfield grant to do testing with some dollars attached for cleanup.
While in comparison, the old hospital or pile of bricks next door had been tested twice and reports written documenting several hazardous infractions and is now being illegally cleaned up. Scrappers are going in there and removing contaminated metals and recycling it but the City of Bunnell Code Enforcement closes an eye to that and has since 1982….. Oh where is social justice when you need it!
Denise Calderwood says
Another piece of history, Family Matters of Flagler sponsored a Brownfield Educational Seminar the same year the County bought the hospital,. It was sponsored by Cardo TBE one of the largest Brownfield redevelopers in the country and they wrote Flagler County’s first attempt at getting the FEED grant. I went to county staff asked if I could submit a new grant they said no. However the County then contracted and wrote the grant with Terracon (another Brownfield developer) and was awarded the $750,000 grant. The City of Bunnell then held their own Brownfield Seminar (sponsored by Terracon) , who was then hired to do the testing of other sites including the first hospital. I was never provided with any proof that Terracon tested the Operations Center prior to it being “cleaned up” and reused as the Operations Center.
Why no litigation to recoup some money from the contractors who obviously did some pretty shoddy work? Who,in the county gubmint, oversaw the work and are they still employed by taxpayers?
Great questions. Yes they are definitely still employed and still doing all kinds of interesting things. God help us.
Me Too says
What about the [had to have} Sears building?????
Mike Cocchiola says
This isn’t just a Coffey mistake. It’s a sheriff’s and a commission’s mistake. All share in this debacle. Clean them all out! We can do better.
CB from PC says
Sheriff Staly inherited this building.
Given who the Democrat Party is backing for Prez, you saying “we can do better” is a laughable comment.
The realtor that sold ‘us’ all of these elephants should have to give back part of her commission…and it was a lot $!!
Coffee was just a pawn look at all the department heads they are the ones running the show and always have been ! County sends the head of facilities to check the buildings over before purchasing. Why don’t we look into these people the ones doing the dirty deals !
Again just saying
CB from PC says
It is always so easy to be irresponsible with Taxpayer money.
Yes, not hard to decide who NOT to vote for in upcoming local election, any incumbent up for ‘re-election.
Wonder what new listings Sheehan-Jones has.
A. J. says
From reading the comments I c the tax payers have to foot the bill. Thanks now I know. I will be glad when the government start using tax money properly. I heard there will be a tax increase in Flagler Couny. A bad time for that.