Delray At Odds With Old School Square & Masks May Re-Emerge

old school square

Old School Square long ago reached iconic status in Delray Beach. But Old School Square for the Arts—the non-profit that runs the city-owned complex—is getting much less love from the city’s elected officials.

The flashpoint at the July 13 city commission meeting was the construction project underway to enhance the interior areas of the Crest Theater. The largest part of the project is a commercial kitchen that will allow event rentals. A single donor named Margaret Bloom is financing the work.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin, however, noted that the group hadn’t obtained “written consent” for the work. The lease with Old School Square for the Arts, Inc. requires such permission. Though Gelin acknowledged the possibility of “failures on both sides” with regard to communication, commissioners were unhappy.

In addition, the group did not put the project out for bid. Apparently, Bloom had a preferred contractor. Gelin said that decision “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The presence at the meeting of Frances Bourque showed that things were serious. Bourque is founder and chairman emeritus of Old School Square and deserves much of the credit for the role that the complex has provided in redeveloping downtown Delray Beach.

“I come before you with humility,” Bourque told the commission. The seeming arrogance that commissioners believe the group had shown “is just not who we are.”

Bourque noted how the Old School Square pavilion recently hosted Jimmy Buffett concerts that publicized the city worldwide. The pavilion was where protesters after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting “came to cry,” as did members of Corey Jones’ family after his murder by a police officer. Old School Square, Bourque said, “is the lifeblood of our community. It is not just a building.”

True enough, but it’s a building the city owns, which allows the commission to question and criticize the actions of the group that manages it. And I’ve heard private grumbling about the management for some time.

I heard it after Rob Steele resigned as executive director in May 2018. He gave no notice. The Old School Square board had hired Steele almost three years earlier. The board’s executive committee met without including Steele, after which he left.

The board hired Steele’s successor, Shannon Eadon, in late summer of 2019. I tried several times to arrange an interview, with no luck. Then Eadon was gone. There still is no executive director. The highest-ranking staff member is Chief Operating Officer Holland Ryan. It would seem that the board is running Old School Square.

Gelin said the 46-page lease needs updating, calling it “overwhelming.” Ideally, Gelin said, the commission would have held a workshop meeting a year ago to sort things out. There even was disagreement over whether the group could sell naming rights.

After much discussion, the commission unanimously approved the renovation plan. Everyone agreed that it would be impractical to stop the work at this point. Mayor Shelly Petrolia tried to strike a more hopeful note by wondering if one of the city’s top chefs might use the new kitchen to train aspiring chefs.

But another flashpoint is coming.

Old School Square has been receiving $750,000 each year from the community redevelopment agency. All five commissioners sit on the CRA board. That money represents roughly 20 percent of the non-profit’s budget.

When the CRA granted the request last year, the board added requirements for financial reporting. Because Old School Square is way behind on submitting audits, the CRA has released only the money for the first three months of the current budget year. Two weeks ago, when the CRA reviewed and approved other non-profit grants for next year, Old School Square hadn’t submitted an application. So next year’s money also is in doubt.

Commissioner Ryan Boylston said, “I’ve told (Old School Square) for years that we can’t just rubber-stamp their request. There’s been no transparency. They need to be connecting with the community. I haven’t felt that way.”

At this point, Boylston said, he would not approve the group’s request even if it got onto a CRA agenda before the budget year starts Oct. 1. Though the lease must remain, Boylston said the commission could put it out for bid “if we don’t see successful leadership.”

New mask recommendations

Based on new COVID-19 recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks indoors–Delray Beach will require masks in public buildings.

An email to that effect went out Wednesday evening. Terrence Moore, who starts Monday as Delray Beach city manager, told me earlier Wednesday that he had been “evaluating.” He later met with Interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez and Assistant City Manager Duncan Tavares. The CDC recommends masks for everyone who lives in areas with “high risk” of transmission. All of Florida now meets that definition.

A Boca Raton spokeswoman said the city “encourages” masks for non-vaccinated employees and members of the public. There has discussion about the new recommendations but no decision.

And employer-mandated vaccinations?

Meanwhile, no area hospital has required vaccination for its employees. A spokesman for Tenet, which owns Delray Medical Center and West Boca Medical Center, confirmed that to The Palm Beach Post.

Baptist Health South Florida owns Boca Raton Regional Hospital. A company spokesman said, “We do not have a COVID-19 vaccine requirement currently in place, but are evaluating that option. With the current rise in COVID-19 cases, we are strongly recommending vaccination for our employees and for our community.”

Boca’s building safety ordinance

reopening

Boca Raton City Council members seem reasonably satisfied with the staff recommendation for a building safety recertification ordinance.

Acknowledging that the city is moving much faster than the county, Mayor Scott Singer said, “I wanted to act now to reassure residents” after last month’s collapse of a condo in Miami-Dade County.

The staff favors recertification after 30 years and a follow-up every 10 years after that. The only current requirements—in Broward and Miami-Dade counties—call for inspections after 40 years. Development Services Director Brandon Schaad acknowledged that the 30-10 rule is “a judgment call.”

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke asked how residents would learn that the city had flagged their building for engineering inspections. With a condo, Schaad said, notice would go to the board. With an office or other commercial building, it would go to the owner.

Though planners are still working on the criteria, Schaad said “a very large number of buildings” will qualify. The ordinance targets structures that are more than 30 years old and are taller than four stories. Those on the waterfront, Schaad said, will get priority.

City Manager Leif Ahnell said the city would create a database and involve insurers. Potential loss of coverage could push residents to pay for repairs. A speaker at Tuesday night’s meeting identified herself as a property manager and praised the ordinance as a way to force safety expenses onto reluctant homeowners.

Council members introduced the ordinance Tuesday night. The public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

Property tax for next year

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Ahnell recommended that Boca Raton’s property tax rate for next year remain virtually unchanged at $3.68 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Many tax bills would rise because property values have increased. Ahnell proposes no increase in the fire fee, which is $145 for a single-family home.

Spady turns 20

Speaking of special places in Delray Beach, the Spady Cultural History Museum turned 20 this week. Under Executive Director Charlene Farrington, the museum has become an important resource in a diverse city.

This month, the community redevelopment agency staff recommended that board members approve another $106,000 for the museum next year. According to the CRA’s evaluation form, Spady scored an impressive 85 out of 100 on the goals for carrying out its mission.

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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.