By REID TUCKER
The fate of the former Walton County Health Department building remains uncertain as a new environmental report on the building indicates additional measures need to be taken to protect workers tasked with demolishing the interior of the building.
However, a decision to gut either the interior, then renovate the former Health Department building, the site of which is planned to be the new location for the DeFuniak Springs Police Department, or to tear it down and rebuild altogether did not come up at the Dec. 12 meeting of the DeFuniak Springs City Council. The council members voted in September to attempt the former plan of action before then reassessing the situation to determine a final course of action in regards to the building’s renovation or demolition. That said, as work moved forward on the project at hand, the presence of extensive mold and fungal growth in the building created concerns for worker safety, so a new environmental inspection was carried out in order to ascertain how best to protect workers while inside.
Barksdale and Associates, Inc., the Pensacola-based environmental services firm used by the city to conduct the initial inspection of the building in 2009, released a report on Nov. 21 in which the following conclusions were reached after the most recent battery of testing: mold and fungal growth and low levels of asbestos and lead in the building necessitate the use of respiratory protection and protective outer clothing by workers while inside the building.
This recommendation adds a complication to the renovation process because inmate labor, which the Council had actively supported, will no longer be an option due to the liability for injury and the city’s own employees will likely not be sufficient to complete the interior demolition alone, explained Interim City Manager Sara Bowers.
“The other wrinkle to this is, we were going to use inmates but now that option isn’t available to us,” she said. “We also don’t have the manpower [within the city] to go in there. They’re spread thin keeping up with the jobs they already have.”
The Council voted 4-0 (Mayor Harold Carpenter was not present at the meeting, so Mayor Pro-Tem Henry Ennis, as the acting chairman, abstained from voting) to pursue bids for an outside company to come in and complete the interior demolition of the former Health Department building. After that job is complete, the Council will then, as per the decision reached in September, re-examine the cost effectiveness of renovating the building or constructing a new police department headquarters from the ground up. City Attorney Clayton Adkinson advised that workers, whether belonging to the city or a hired contractor, fully comply with the safety recommendations of the environmental survey by Barksdale and Associates in order to avoid liability.
Assistant City Manager Bill Holloway, who authorized the most recent safety inspection, informed the Council that the protective and respiratory gear had already been ordered.
Despite the straight vote from the Council, individual members of the board were not entirely pleased with the fact that Barksdale and Associates were hired to conduct a further environmental survey of the building without the Council’s knowledge. Councilman Ron Kelley said a recommendation to seek for bids on the complete demolition of the building amounted to “overreaching” on the part of staff. However, the harshest criticism came from Councilman Kermit Wright, who presented his own plan for the renovation of the former Health Department building, which he contended could be done at a cost of $30 per square foot versus the $60 per square foot it would cost for demolition, at the aforementioned September meeting.
“There’s too many folks here that want to spend $2 million we don’t have,” Wright said, speaking in reference to the estimated cost to rebuild on the Health Department site. “I think it’s silly.
“We’re blowing money that we don’t need to spend.”
Other items on the Council’s agenda included a request from City Marshal Mark Weeks to use $3,956 in unclaimed monies collected by the DFSPD to purchase an ID card printer at a cost of $2,599 plus supplies. The money, which the police department acquired in the process of criminal investigations, has been in police possession for more than 90 days, in which case it will be transferred back into the city’s general fund budget. However, Weeks requested that the money be used to purchase a new ID printer to replace the department’s broken one. Weeks said the DFSPD is responsible for printing ID cards for all city departments. The Council voted 4-0 in favor of honoring Weeks’ request, provided it not exceed the amount of the unclaimed funds.
Per Councilman Kelley’s recommendation at the last November meeting, several members of the community were nominated by some of the councilmen to an airport advisory committee. Ennis got verbal commitments from Terry Dawkins and Bob Fullencamp, who were his nominations to the committee and Kelley recommended Ed Armbruster. Kelley suggested that nominations to the committee be placed on the agenda at least one more time, with the aim of getting five community representatives on the committee.
The Council also voted unanimously to approve requests from Florida Chautauqua Center President Chris Mitchell to obtain permission for two projects set to take place at the Chautauqua Assembly early next year. The Council authorized Civil War and Florida frontier re-enactors to camp near the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood over a period of three days. The 14-tent exhibit will be allowed to have campfires.
Finally, the Council voted 4-0 to allow Mitchell and Chautauqua Assembly organizers to move ahead with plans to plant trees at Lake DeFuniak and along some of the nearby streets in honor of Arbor Day. Mitchell presented documents and newspaper articles from around the country showing that Arbor Day in Florida got its start at the Florida Winter Chautauqua in DeFuniak Springs in the late 19th century. The trees will be planted at a special ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 26.