By REID TUCKER
The ball is once again in the DeFuniak Springs City Council’s court, as the results of a new study spelled out the options when it comes to the fate of the former Health Department building.
The decision as to whether the building, long proposed as a prime site for a new police department headquarters, should be renovated as-is, partially refurbished with a new roof, or completely demolished and rebuilt has come before the Council on numerous occasions over the last three years. However, the recent study, by far the most comprehensive to date, includes neither detailed construction plans nor the cost or time associated with any of the above options. Rather, the purpose of the study, presented to the Council at its July 23 meeting, was to determine the structural integrity of the building, said Tom Williams, senior structural engineer with Baskerville-Donovan, Inc., one of the city’s engineering firms.
“This is a fact-finding report,” Williams said. “We’re presenting [the Council] with information that will then have to be reviewed versus the budget, time constraints (and) funding to aid you and your other consultants in making decisions. Our scope…was to investigate, analyze and formulate engineering opinions as to the existing structural building conditions of the former county health facility.”
The study showed the exterior walls of the structure, built in the late 1940s, have nevertheless remained sturdy and present only limited issues when it comes to renovating the building’s interior. Rather, the primary area of concern associated with refurbishing the building is the presence of a flat roof and a correspondingly low ceiling, making the installation of new heating, ventilation and air conditioning ductwork difficult if not outright impossible. However, the study concluded that there is no single major problem or safety risk associated with any aspect of the building that would make total renovation entirely unfeasible should the Council eventually decide to go that route.
Of the three options reported in the study, Williams said each had drawbacks and advantages, with refurbishing the building as-is likely taking the greatest amount of time. On the other hand, demolishing the building to start over from scratch would likely be the most expensive option, though a new construction necessarily means every aspect of the building would be up to code and suited the purpose of a police headquarters.
The Council did not take any action after hearing the report, choosing instead to study the full document and come back with a decision at a future meeting. Mayor Harold Carpenter thanked Williams and his firm for their efforts, which he said gave the city more to go by than it had ever had before.
“I think you gave us exactly what we needed to know at this point and now it’s left up to the Council to move forward,” he said.
Prior to hearing the Baskerville-Donovan report, the Council approved several motions, the biggest of which were straight votes to turn over to the Walton County School District five different portions of various roads, streets, rights-of-way and alleys around Walton Middle School, as was discussed at a previous meeting. The five resolutions, numbered 2012-12 through 2012-16, contain provisions to return the streets to the city’s control if the new construction projects are not completed within five years, though the city retains a 30-foot easement along each abandoned street for maintenance purposes. The school board has already begun making plans to renovate the campus with new buildings. The Council also unanimously approved a motion to request that the Walton County Office of Supervisor of Elections allow candidates running for city office to qualify for elections via petition in lieu of paying a qualifying fee of 3 percent of that individual’s salary. The number of signatures on a petition is required by Florida Statute to be at least equal to 1 percent of the city’s total registered voters.
Business-related news was thick on the ground at the meeting, as the Council voted 5-0 to waive $1,316.45 in applicable building permit fees for Tractor Supply Company, as the company aims to have opened the doors to a new retail location in the city by mid-to-late October. The new Tractor Supply store is projected to create 12-15 jobs.
Walton County Economic Development Alliance Director Scarlett Phaneuf reported to the Council that two companies had lately expressed interest in setting up shop in the Lewis Bear building, which was previously used as an Anheuser-Busch distribution center. The two companies could combine to potentially create upward of 80 jobs. She also reported increased interest from prospective municipal airport tenants inquiring about vacant hangar space.
The city’s code enforcement officer, Jason O’Daniels, got approval from the Council to accept the donation and installation of a new Honeywell wind turbine (with a total value of $15,000) from Miramar Beach-based Sustainable Consulting Technologies, LLP. The 150-pound, 6-foot-wide turbine will be installed at the City Hall Annex, the smallest city building, with the hopes that it can become the first step toward making a city building completely self-sustaining in terms of its energy consumption. The turbine can begin generating electricity in wind speeds as low as 2 mph and can begin rotating in only .4 mph winds, a technological achievement unmatched even by more expensive and larger turbine systems.
Finally, the Council voted 5-0 in favor of installing a $12,708 underground electrical distribution system in the Lake DeFuniak area. The system was necessitated by the heavy draw on Gulf Power’s grid each year during the time of the Christmas Reflections holiday light display around the lake which threatened to overheat the existing distribution system. Christmas Reflections generally makes enough money each year to have paid the city back within two years’ time.