Gainesville to demolish historic recreation center

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Twenty-one days after city commissioners voted 6-0 to demolish and replace the Thelma A. Boltin Historic Center, Mayor Lauren Poe has deemed “People Saving Places” Gainesville’s theme for Preservation Month. national 2022.

Residents are confused with the conflicting decisions.

The Boltin Center, an 80-year-old building at 516 NE Second Ave., has served as a united service organization for members to socialize, play bingo, dance and attend plays since 1942. This month’s theme honors those who dedicate their time, energy and resources to protect places like the center.

Since its last renovation in 1999, the center has grown to become a versatile gathering space for residents. The center’s structure has since depreciated due to wartime construction methods and minimal maintenance during the pandemic.

An April 14 presentation cited termite damage, hollow walls, an undersized foundation and a collapsed roof as reasons for demolishing the center. The decision drew opposition from the community due to its threat to the historical significance of the building. Melanie Barr, secretary of the Alachua County Historic Commission, said the city did not consult with the Historic Preservation Board and the nearby residential district of Duckpond before voting to demolish the center.

The center represents Boltin’s contributions to the community and is of historic significance to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Florida folk culture and dancers, she said.

Since the 1980s, the center has hosted meetings of the Gainesville Oldtime Dance Society, including annual counter-dancing events that have attracted dancers from across the country.

“They come from all over the country to dance here, so it has meaning for people now and shouldn’t be torn down,” Barr said.

Dance society president Albert “Al” Rogers, 73, said his nonprofit was disappointed with the demolition but hoped to influence the design of the new center, particularly the flooring.

A new design would give a cohesive flow and better circulation to the building by developing a second multi-purpose space and expanding gathering spaces, said Elizabeth “Betsy” Waite, director of wild spaces and public places.

Waite began designing a new building to replace the center in late 2019. She said it was not possible to replace the building’s roof because the building’s walls and foundation could not support the structure.

Waite estimates the demolition and rebuilding will cost around $3 million. She said the new center would give neighbors better access to programs and activities like dance, theater, concerts and yoga.

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Barr showed council members photos of buildings in need of similar repairs that were eventually restored to meet the needs of residents.

“If they allocate $3 million to build a new building, they can spend $3 million to renovate a landmark,” Barr said.

Kathleen Pagan works as a senior planner at Alachua County Growth Management and helps document historic structures on The Living New Deal website. The centre, she said, is one of more than 450 remaining.

“It is very important to maintain the existing buildings,” she said. “The greenest building, as you know, is the one that already exists.”

City staff negotiate a contract with the design team for the new building. The new center is expected to reopen in the summer of 2024 after construction next summer.

Contact Mickenzie Hannon at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @MickenzieHannon.

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