The Kevin M. Harvin Center in Royal Palm Beach has been vacated and the preparation to demolish the structure has already begun.
Unfortunately, a lease plan that would have kept the YWCA’s Head Start program in Royal Palm Beach broke down at the last minute. There is currently no facility in the area to accept the displaced children and staff. Several are being directed to other facilities within Palm Beach County.
YWCA of Palm Beach County CEO Suzanne Turner explained what went wrong and where things stand.
“We were working very closely with an agency, and thought we would be leasing space, but that did not work out toward the last minute,” Turner told the Town-Crier.
The displacement of the Head Start program has been a great inconvenience to the children and staff members, she said.
“We have worked to help try [to] find families and staff other locations,” Turner explained. “Several of them have gone to other facilities. There are other agencies in the area. Head Start has opened locations in the [Palm Beach County] area. Several have taken advantage of those locations.”
Turner spoke highly of her organization’s longstanding relationship with Royal Palm Beach.
“We have enjoyed being there 21 years,” she said. “We feel we have done an excellent job working with children and families. We’re disappointed to have to leave there.”
Turner and the YWCA remains optimistic about finding a location in the western communities, but no suitable site has yet been identified.
“We’d be delighted to find another location in [which] to still open a facility in that area,” Turner said. “We will be working with Lutheran Services to find a new location in Palm Beach County wherever it is feasible.”
Royal Palm Beach Mayor Fred Pinto expressed disappointment with the developments.
“I am very, very sad that the situation didn’t work out for them,” Pinto said. “They had a contract that didn’t work out.”
Pinto felt that the village did all it could to help, including extending the YWCA’s lease twice. In June, the council extended the lease for the second time, giving them until the end of August to vacate the premises.
“We did extend the period for them,” Pinto said. “They were very, very positive at the [June 21] meeting. At the last minute, it didn’t work out for them.”
Pinto would like to see the YWCA Head Start program remain within Royal Palm Beach. He was also concerned about what would become of the children and staff members who no longer had a local facility.
“We’re grieved. Hopefully, they can still get it done,” Pinto said. “But there is nothing we can do to help the situation.”
Pinto went on to update the current status of the Harvin Center and future uses for the site.
“They started prep work for the demolition,” Pinto said. “It’s a little more complicated due to asbestos. There are no specific plans for the site. It will be for public purpose and public service, but there’s no concrete plan.”
Royal Palm Beach Public Works Director Paul Webster confirmed the presence of asbestos.
“There is asbestos on the second roof line,” Webster said.
An experienced subcontractor has been hired to remove the dangerous substance before the demolition. It could be completed as early as this week.
The demolition contract was awarded to Loxahatchee-based Almazan Construction LLC, which is currently in the process of obtaining the demolition permits. The contract with the village calls for demolition to begin on Monday, Sept. 10 with 60 days allocated for completion, which would be the first week of November.
The story of the Kevin M. Harvin Center began in 1972 when it was constructed as a sales office for original community developer Royal Palm Beach Colony Inc. Over the years, the structure served as a library before becoming a community building that was home to several nonprofit organizations, including the YWCA.
The YWCA first took up residency in 1997 offering Head Start programs to between 60 and 70 children. Many of the children came from low-income households that could not afford a private program. Pinto and the council have all expressed the belief that the program is an asset to the community.
The building did not age gracefully. By late 2017, Robert Hill, the village’s director of community development, described it as a “money pit” in remarks before the council. The primary concern at that time was the building’s aged heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, along with the air ducts.
Concern was expressed by both Hill and Village Manager Ray Liggins that additional, costly problems would be uncovered if they moved forward to work on the HVAC system.
The council voted unanimously in favor of demolishing the Harvin Center at a meeting in November 2017. The leases were intended to expire on Feb. 28, 2018, but the YWCA Head Start program was given until June 30, so that they could complete the school year.
The other two tenants — Caribbean-Americans for Community Involvement Inc. (CAFCI) and Sonshine Family Ministries Inc. — vacated the Harvin Center. They moved to the Royal Palm Beach Recreation Center and are awaiting the completion of the one-year renovation to the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center.
Due to the regulation of these types of children’s programs — particularly in regard to child safety — it can often be difficult, time consuming and costly to obtain a location that conforms to state regulations.
By mid-June, the YWCA still had not found a suitable new location and appealed to the council to extend the lease.
Pinto and the rest of the council were concerned by the lack of progress but voted unanimously to extend the lease until Aug. 31 with the hope that the program would find a suitable location in the interim.