As the Village of Royal Palm Beach marks its 60th anniversary, there are plans in the works to upgrade its municipal campus, constructing a new Village Hall building to replace the current facility.
The current building dates back to 1977 and last underwent a major renovation approximately 15 years ago. According to Royal Palm Beach Mayor Fred Pinto, the idea of replacing the aging structure has been under discussion for some time.
“It has been something we have been looking at to accommodate the village into the future,” Pinto told the Town-Crier this week. “The long-term vision is to provide facilities that can accommodate the village staff and operations. We want to put something in place that 30 years from now will still exist.”
The initial plan was to renovate and expand the current facility, but experts have questioned if that is the most cost-effective way forward.
“When we had the architects and engineers look at the renovations, it was expensive,” Pinto said. “One of the reasons it is expensive is when they start to dismantle an old structure like this and to expand it in certain places, you don’t know what you are going to find. There could be things like asbestos, or other problems, that can be uncovered in the process. These things can drive the cost up even more.”
The Royal Palm Beach Village Council is expected to discuss plans for a new building as part of its upcoming budget process for next year. However, the new building is likely still several years away.
“The other part of the renovation cost is that we have to leave the facilities and take up temporary quarters at some place to continue village operations,” Pinto said. “It may take a year and a half. So, this was another cost factor. We were looking at a disruption not only to operations but to our services and to our citizens.”
Architects and engineers are currently drawing up plans for a new facility in a space near the current Village Hall. If they build this new structure, the old building will remain in place with full operations until the time the new building is ready. When the new building is erected, staff will then move to the new building and the old one will be demolished.
“We came up with new design options and considerations for building a new facility,” Pinto said. “The architects said that they thought they could build the new facility in a place it would be the most effective, allowing us to continue operations without disruption.”
Pinto noted that a new Village Hall building has been on the horizon for years. However, it is just now that the time seems right.
“The facility where we are has always been a long-term goal option,” he said. “We looked at this a few years ago. It has not just now come up. The years have gone by, and that horizon project now has come closer.”
Still to be determined is an exact timeframe.
“We are looking at the design plans now to see what the next phase is,” Pinto said. “The Capital Improvements Program funding available in the next five years is also a factor.”
Other members of the Royal Palm Beach Village Council agree that the time might be right for a new building.
“We are coming up on our 60th anniversary,” Councilman Jeff Hmara said. “The Village Hall opening in 1977 was more than 40 years ago. This is the life cycle for most buildings. For the most part, we are at a point where we have redone some of our infrastructure buildings, like our Cultural Center, and we’re planning to do an expansion of our Recreation Center.”
All of this comes at a point in time when the countywide one-cent sales surtax approved by voters in 2016 has given municipalities like Royal Palm Beach an additional stream of revenue for capital upgrades.
“The penny sales tax was designed to allow the cities, the county and public schools to catch up on some of the infrastructures that have fallen into disrepair over many years of not being able to fund it,” Hmara explained. “So, the timing is right.”
When the architects and engineers found that the cost was mounting to refurbish the existing Village Hall building, the council approved staff to look into the cost of a new building.
“We are in the preliminary stages at this point,” Hmara said. “We have not seen firm numbers. But at this point, it looks like it is going to be less expensive to build a new building than it would be to refurbish or redesign the existing building.”
He added that the village’s population has grown since the last upgrade to Village Hall.
“From a functional standpoint, we are serving twice as many people now than we once did,” Hmara said. “The layout is fragmented. So, when you go up to the clerk’s informational window, you may find yourself having to go back outside to come back inside the building at the western end in order to get to building permits, code enforcement, and planning and zoning. You cannot even get there from the lobby area.”
A newly designed building would make things easier, particularly during emergencies.
“By creating this new building, we are able to take the code level of the building up to the hurricane status, which will allow us to move our emergency operations center over to the new building,” Hmara said. “Being able to continue to operate during extreme circumstances like hurricanes and to be available immediately after a storm passes is critical. By having this hurricane-rated building, we will be able to continue to function right in the same place.”