Thursday, May 25, 2023

New Boca History Museum To Open Soon & Old School Square Saga Continues

Old Boca Raton soon will look much newer.

In November, the Boca Raton History Museum will reopen after two years and a $1.2 million renovation project that will present much more of the city’s past in a much more interactive way.

I took a tour recently. Even before I looked at the new exhibits, I knew much had changed.

On a typical hot summer day, the interior offered a wonderful coolness. Previous visitors will remember that the overwhelmed air-conditioning system could make things uncomfortable if the place was crowded.

That upgrade is just one of many that visitors won’t see. They also include plumbing upgrades and improvements that have reinforced the structure of the 94-year-old building that served as the city’s first town hall.

Visitors will see many pleasing changes. One is that they can enter through the front door from North Federal Highway. Previously, the wooden doors were opened for light but the class doors stayed closed for security. That will especially help because the museum is also Boca Raton’s visitor center.

Along one side of the center hallway is a decade-by-decade timeline of Boca Raton’s history. It actually ends with the 2001 anthrax attack–still unsolved–at American Media and Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The storm’s eye passed over Boca Raton. Mary Csar, executive director of the museum and historical society, said the following decades will need space on the opposite wall.

Off the hallway are four rooms devoted to: Addison Mizner; the city’s farm pioneers; World War II; and IBM’s history in Boca Raton. In the Mizner room, which has many Mizner artifacts, a monkey is on the wall near the architect. Mizner famously kept one as a pet. Mort Walker, creator of Beetle Bailey and benefactor of the cartoon museum that once was in Mizner Park, drew it. Nice touch.

Even longtime residents should enjoy the detail about wartime Boca Raton and the airbase that included land now home to Florida Atlantic University. The same goes for all the material about IBM’s glory days, when the company employed 10,000 people near Yamato Road and developed the personal computer. The Pioneers room includes the city’s first telephone and an early 20th-century classroom.

Csar said discussions about the renovation began four years ago among board members and staff. The museum needed more space, especially for its library.

Money for the project came from the $2.1 million sale last year of the nearby historic train depot. The board decided to sell it so the historical society could focus all resources on the museum. A non-profit wants to upgrade the depot for use as a venue. The trains will stay.

The city owns the museum. Csar and her board proposed that the city, as the landlord, contribute $650,000 for the infrastructure work. City council members agreed.

Last month, Csar appeared at a council meeting to say that the work cost $600,000 more than anticipated. Among other things, workers had to pump sewage from underneath the museum. Also unexpectedly, they had to brace up support beams that rested on sugar sand.

Though the museum paid that $600,000, Csar asked the city for reimbursement. Her exchange with staff and council members gave the impression that the news about the added charges surprised the city, but Csar told me, “They weren’t blindsided.”

Museum employees have given the city documentation for all the work. A spokeswoman said the city continues to review it. In September, when the council goes back to a normal twice-a-month meeting schedule, reimbursement may be on an agenda.

Whatever the decision, the public soon will get a richer, more inviting way to see how Boca Raton began and how it has grown. At a time of such rapid change, such a gift is timeless.

Old School Square saga continues

delray old school square

Old School Square for the Arts may not be done at Old School Square.

That’s one conclusion from an email that Delray Beach City Manager Terrence Moore sent out last week. He had promised an update after the city commission, by a vote of 3-2, terminated the lease for the city-owned cultural and civic complex.

The commission majority told Moore, offering no details, to find a replacement. In the email, Moore said he would consider “proposals from either management companies, entertainment groups, non-profit agencies, and/or other organizations…”

Moore calculates that the process will take between 20 and 22 weeks. The termination takes effect in early February, 180 days from the commission’s Aug. 10 vote. The first phase of the search will be Solicitation, followed by Evaluation, Negotiation and Award.

“Given the associated public process,” Moore wrote, “Old School Square Center for the Arts, Inc., will also have an opportunity to submit a proposal if they so desire to do so. However, all interested parties will be subjected to applicable due diligence reviews, including respective financial stewardship and capabilities background, as well as an evaluation of previous performance and related experiences.” You can read that a couple of ways.

Moore could be acknowledging the difficulty of his task. Old School Square for the Arts is not just a “management company.” It’s also the founding and fundraising organization for Old School Square. The list of potential successor non-profits is short.

Moore also could be sending a message to Old School Square: You could get a second chance, but only with the sort of changes that even the group’s supporters say the group needs to make. And perhaps Moore is trying to help the city’s position if Old School Square sues.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to evict Old School Square for the Arts without discussing the many possible ramifications. Those fall to Moore. We don’t know where things will lead, but Moore has dropped the flag.

Camino Square gas station update

camino square

I have written about the dispute between the owner of the Valero gas station south of the Camino Square project in Boca Raton and city staff over a planned median on Southwest Third Avenue. The owner believes that the median would prevent fuel trucks from reaching the station.

During last week’s workshop meeting, the owner’s attorney, Michael Marshall, told council members, “We haven’t gotten anywhere with staff.” The city, Marshall says, presumes that the owner will get approval to upgrade the station and add a car wash. Marshall said the median is a more pressing issue than the development application. “We’re talking in circles.”

The owner has proposed a redesigned median that would allow trucks to make their deliveries. City Manager Leif Ahnell said, “Our engineers are looking at options.” Councilwoman Monica Mayotte said, “I have to think that we can come up with a solution.”

Another big BRRH donation

The latest seven-figure gift to Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s capital campaign comes from philanthropist Ena Kane, who has donated $1 million.

Like many Keeping the Promise donors, Kane has given previously to the hospital. Her donation means that the campaign has raised more than $210 million toward its goal of $250 million.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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