In its centennial year, transformation is well underway in downtown Boynton Beach after a grass-roots effort to save the old Boynton Beach High School from demolition and turn it into a destination and cultural arts center called Boynton Town Square succeeded in 2018.
The project is a public/private partnership between the city of Boynton Beach and E2L Real Estate Solutions LLC and is scheduled to open this summer.
According to the city, the 20-acre development will be “a place for connecting – connecting the city’s historic past to its vibrant future; residents to each other; community members and visitors to arts, culture and other activities.”
The 28,009 sq.-ft. building at 125 E. Ocean Ave. was neglected and vacant since 1990, and in need of some major TLC. Assistant City Manager Colin Groff, who is in charge of the project and gave a tour of the site last week, said it took at least eight months of mold remediation, cleaning up mildew, asbestos and lead paint before they could even begin reconstruction on the property.
When finished, the school renovation alone is estimated to come in at $11.3 million, according to Groff.
“We want the community involved in using this building and all the activities we have planned – from art, dance, yoga, karate and fencing classes to rotating public art installations,” Groff said. “We want to bring people downtown to eat, shop, have fun and play.”
“We are recreating downtown Boynton Beach,” he says. “This building will be engaged 24/7. This will be the place to be.”
Renovations were designed to keep the historical aspects of the 1927 building intact, as the building is listed on the city’s Register of Historic Places. Efforts have been made to preserve the bell tower, historic window shapes (bringing them up to code and adding hurricane impact), the school’s crest, original art on the building’s facade (a torch depicting enlightenment and learning) and a shield with laurels representing achievement.
But everything else has been upgraded for modern conveniences — Wi-Fi, air conditioning, elevators and ADA accessibility. Even the bathrooms were redesigned as replicas of the original bathrooms with updated hardware and facilities.
Diane Valentini, manager of the new cultural arts center, which is scheduled to open in the spring, says they plan to have an on-site Fred Astaire Dance Studio, “every art class you can imagine,” and will be working with the Lake Worth Playhouse to bring live performances to the venue.
The outdoor space is also undergoing renovation and redesign. A patio space will be available for rent for events, weddings and parties, says Groff, and they are building a family adventure park with themes tied to the city’s history.
Examples include: a ship, a 25-foot-by-12-foot butterfly representing local endangered butterfly species, a large jellyfish, a Flagler train and a statue of the Barefoot Mailman.
The “pride and joy” of the renovation, says Groff, is the old school auditorium/gym, with its eight original Dade County pine beams. One of the largest auditoriums in South Palm Beach County, it seats 300 at tables and another 500 in chairs. It will be the future home of the city’s renowned biennial kinetic art events.
“We’re very proud of it,” Groff says.
Plans are to have staff move into the building as soon as a few months and to initiate programming over the summer.
The new City Hall is scheduled to open July 21, when construction moves to the outer edges of the structure, including building a parking garage, completing the landscaping and greenery and breaking ground on a new hotel.
Eventually the complex will include retail stores, restaurants, residential units and a new fire station, City Hall and library.
Groff mentioned the city is looking for donors to step forward and naming rights are available to individuals, organizations, businesses and foundations who would like to support additional technology, for the auditorium and other rooms.
He emphasized that the building complex will be secure and safe. “Our residents have made the right decision in going forward with these plans and should be very proud of their new building and downtown,” he said.
“Bring your mom, grab a cup of coffee at City Hall, drop the kids off at dance or the library, park once and take advantage of everything there will be to offer in our new downtown,” said city spokeswoman Eleanor Krusell. “This is an inclusive complex with something for everybody.”