Boca Raton caught off guard after museum asks for renovation refunds

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BOCA RATON – Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum spent over $ 2 million last year on major building renovations and new museum exhibits.

Then museum officials turned around last week and demanded the city pay them back nearly $ 600,000.

Building officials discovered last year that the Old Town Hall, which dates back to 1927 and houses the historic society, needed extensive plumbing, foundation and electrical work.

The cast iron pipes had disintegrated and left two bathrooms without a connection to the sewer system, museum officials learned. Water had run under the building and started to undermine the foundation. And the erosion had seemed to cause cracks in the center of the historic building.

The town's first fire engine, Old Betsy, was outside Old Town Hall in August 1927, just four months after the building opened.

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Little time was wasted after the damage was detected. The cast iron pipes have been replaced by PVC. And the temporary screw jacks originally used to support the building have been replaced with permanent jacks.

As the museum rushed to fix issues, the project went way over budget. The museum invested $ 1.2 million in exhibits and $ 1.1 million in renovations, in addition to using a previous grant of $ 650,000 from the city.

On July 26, the museum applied for another grant, and it came as a shock to the mayor and city council: $ 590,033 in refunds for renovations.

“We had other non-profit organizations that occupied buildings in the city, but they didn’t undertake a huge amount of work, didn’t pay for it, and then came to us afterwards,” Mayor Scott Singer said at a recent workshop. “My first question is, ‘Why did you wait until May to give us the request and not do it last year when you identified a number of these issues at that time?’ “

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A building official who worked on the renovations argued that the nearly 100-year-old building would have suffered further damage if no action was taken.

The Old Town Hall in Boca Raton, pictured on October 6, 2000.

“The only thing I can really say about all of this is that the continued investigation to try to determine what was causing some of these problems was appropriate,” said Derek Vander Ploeg, an architect who directs the firm of Boca Raton Vander Ploeg & Associés. “Without it, I think the building would have deteriorated at a much higher rate over the next few years. “

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The mayor insisted on another response. He asked a museum official to explain why the city had to reimburse the museum for work already paid for.

“We didn’t want to fragment it,” said Mary Csar, president and CEO of the Boca Raton Historical Society. “It’s not like we’re not working with the city; we were. I guess looking back the mistake is that I should have brought you earlier and done it piecemeal with you so you weren’t surprised.

As the museum official accepted a fault, a council member came to his defense.

“Obviously, it’s a lot of money and we have to revisit it,” said city councilor Yvette Drucker, former president of the Historical Society. “From someone who wants to embrace the future, but loves to preserve history, I’m really excited about what this will bring to our community.

Once the museum put its request on the table, no one on the board said if they would receive such a large refund.

“It’s a lot of money,” Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke said. “It is not surprising that you have encountered this difficulty. I think a lot of that was anticipated with a century-old building. I’m glad he’s in the good shape that he is now, but we’ll have to work our way through this.

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