Windermere to examine the fate of town facilities

By on August 20, 2014

Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith likens the town’s tiny police station to “a glorified doublewide.”

Smith

And he said the main town administration building has been “repaired with Duct tape and bubblegum” for the past several decades.

“Now it’s time to actually decide what we’re going to do with (the existing town buildings), whether we’re going to refurbish them or tear them down and rebuild,” Smith said after the Town Council meeting on Aug. 12.

That’s when the council, after much discussion, unanimously approved paying $70,000 to two firms that will create a long-term master facilities plan. The existing town office complex in downtown Windermere is almost a century old.

The council supported the Town Facilities Selection Committee’s recommendation of hiring the top-ranked firms of Wannamecher Jensen Architects, of St. Petersburg, and Detroit-based Wade Trim to form the plan.

The firms’ work will include analyzing the functionality, security and architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing features of existing town buildings.

“I think the town residents need some input (on the overall issue),” Council Member John Armstrong said at the meeting. “This is pretty big. They need to be allowed to have some kind of say.”

That will happen, Smith assured him. He said the firms will conduct stakeholder meetings, at which Windermere residents and others can give input on the facilities’ future.

Smith said he would try to negotiate with the two companies in order to have them perform asbestos and lead paint tests, and provide estimates of rehab and construction costs, as part of the $70,000 contract.

The completion dates for the various tasks also will be negotiated.

“The sooner the better, so we know what direction we need to go in, as far as budgeting for not next year, but the year after that,” said Smith, who began working as Windermere’s town manager in October 2011.

If the firms find that it’s not worth refurbishing the existing buildings, they could suggest constructing a single government complex that would house all town offices, including the police department.

“(The study) will look at similar towns of similar size with similar services, and determine what’s going to be the best and highest use for this piece of property,” Smith said.

He said constructing new town facilities could range from anywhere from $1 to $4 million. The firms would make suggestions on ways to pay this cost, such as long-term loans.Wind. banner

Accommodating the future

According to project documents: “The town currently consists of 2,800 residents. There are possibilities of future development and annexations but (the town’s) staffing needs would remain at or near what they are now. A long-term master facilities plan based on the town reaching full build-out should be considered at this time.”

The firms will analyze these town properties:

Town administration complex

The administration currently operates out of several buildings. Originally built as a schoolhouse complex in 1916, the schoolhouse was converted to town offices in 2000, town officials said. The complex consists of:

• Building A: town administration, clerk, finance department

• Building B: old finance department, public works supervisor office, storage

• Building C: commercial rent space (Windermere Counseling, Kaley’s Alterations, Realty International)

• Police Department (connected to Elizabeth Parson’s School of Dance)

Also, the public works storage yard and facility are south of the police department.

1887 school site

“The school site cannot be moved and should be incorporated into the overall master plan,” officials said in the project documents.

Town Square

Contains Town Hall, the commercially leased Cal Palmer Memorial Building, the Franklin W. Chase Memorial Library, a town community room and a basketball court.

“The Town Square is not to be re-planned . . . but should be a factor in any recommendations,” officials said.

The small police station and town administration offices make it “difficult to function,” Council Member Mike Pirozzolo said at the Aug. 12 meeting. But Council Member Richard Gonzalez cautioned, “If we have to take (the buildings) down, people in town need to know why we’re taking them down.”

When asked after the meeting about the most-pressing problems with the current facilities, Smith listed “functionality, space, soundproofing. (The complex) was built to be a schoolhouse and not a government agency, or a police department.”

He added that one of the police department’s goals is to become state accredited.

“But currently, the way that they’re oriented within that structure, there’s no way we’ll get it accredited,” he said. “It’s just not adequate.”

Overall, Smith prefers keeping all of the town facilities in the central downtown area for various reasons. He said, for example, that 90% of the Public Works Department’s duties are done downtown. And that’s where the town stores the equipment used to maintain the numerous dirt roads cherished by Windermere residents.

About Tony Judnich