BRADENTON BEACH – City officials are trying to figure out whether it makes more sense to floodproof and hurricane-harden city hall or to build a new city hall complex.
These ongoing discussions also involve the adjacent city-owned Tingley Memorial Library and the police department and public works buildings around the corner on Highland Avenue. No final decisions have been made regarding any of the existing buildings, including the library.
These previously-discussed matters were discussed in greater detail at the Jan. 22 City Commission work meeting. In the wake of those discussions, Mayor John Chappie wants residents to know there are no plans to eliminate the Tingley Memorial Library, although it could be relocated depending on what long-term decisions are made.
“Any talk of getting rid of the Tingley Memorial Library, our historic library, is just not true. In my view, the library has to be part of any final decisions we make,” Chappie said on Thursday, Jan. 31.
During the work meeting, Building Official Steve Gilbert provided his insight on floodproofing and windproofing the existing city buildings and the possibility of building a new city hall complex.
A memo from Gilbert included in the commission’s work meeting packet notes the current city hall was built around 1970-71, before the creation of the Florida Building Code. It is located below the current flood plain and it is not known if the exterior walls, slab and foundation would resist floodwaters or wave action.
The memo states the current city hall could be floodproofed by installing exterior flood barriers that would also require new foundations to anchor them. The Public Works Department would need to maintain the flood barriers and erect and dismantle them before and after storms.
According to Gilbert’s memo, the elevated library building – built in 1993 – is above the flood plain, will likely need a new roof, ramp and stairs within the next few years and could be storm-hardened by installing hurricane-rated doors and windows.
“Any talk of getting rid of the Tingley Memorial Library, our historic library, is just not true. In my view, the library has to be part of any final decisions we make.” – John Chappie, Bradenton Beach Mayor
Gilbert told the commission the ground-level public works building built in the early 1970s and the partially-elevated, two-story police station thought to have been built in the 1980s could be more easily floodproofed than city hall.
He noted these discussions are driven by increasing flood insurance premiums. According to City Treasurer Shayne Thompson, it will cost $18,334 to insure city hall during the 2018-19 fiscal year and those premiums will increase as FEMA’s flood insurance subsidies are eliminated.
Gilbert guessed it might cost between $150,000 and $350,000 to install flood shields at city hall and make additional windproofing improvements to the roof, but the actual windproofing costs remain an unknown. He said floodproofing city hall for flood insurance purposes would not guarantee the building would still be standing or usable after a major storm.
Vice Mayor Jake Spooner said he wasn’t convinced that flood shields were a viable solution for city hall.
From public safety, response and resilience perspectives, Gilbert suggested a new city hall complex could be built to withstand Category 4 and 5 hurricane-force winds and be located next to the police station.
According to a 2014 Sun interview with librarian Eveann Adams, the city library that operates outside of the county library system dates back to at least 1959 and was known as the Bradenton Beach Library when operated at another location.
The library is named in honor of Beulah Tingley, the longtime Bradenton Beach resident who passed away in 1986 and bequeathed to the city roughly $500,000 to maintain a city reading room.
According to Adams, the current library building was first put into use in February 1994 and dedicated in Tingley’s honor on Feb. 28, 1995. She said the 2,800-square-foot building includes 1,900 square feet of shelf space that holds approximately 10,000 books and other materials.
The library operates on its own separate budget, which is overseen by the City Commission with assistance from city staff. According to City Clerk Terri Sanclemente, the current library fund balance is $465,469 and the average annual operating expenses are $31,907, including Adams’ salary. Library volunteers provide the additional staffing.
“Integrate everything in one complex that’s next to the bridge, where we can get back to work as soon as the storm has passed,” Gilbert told the commission.
When asked about that concept the following week, Gilbert said a new city hall complex could possibly consist of two levels located over parking and connected to the second floor of the Police Department. He said the existing Public Works building could be upgraded for floodproofing and windproofing purposes to help keep it viable during and after a storm event.
Public Works Director Tom Woodard said the metal guard rails between Cortez Road and the police department parking lot can be removed to provide direct access to the bridge if needed.
During the work meeting, Gilbert guessed it might cost $2-$2.5 million to construct the new city hall complex, which could potentially be funded by selling the current city hall and library properties.
Spooner suggested taking out a loan to build a new city hall, keeping those city properties and converting them into a metered, ground-level city parking lot.
He said a 100-space parking lot charging $5 a day could generate approximately $182,000 per year. Those revenues could be used to make the loan payments and would continue after the loan was paid off.
Chappie said he wasn’t sure he could support a parking lot being built on properties located right across the street from the Gulf of Mexico. He leans more toward selling one or both of those properties to pay for a new building – a building he later reiterated should include space for the city library.
Commissioner Ralph Cole said he was open to discussing all options and everyone agreed that the value and the sales value of the properties and buildings need to be assessed before these discussions resume.