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Valparaiso Municipal Commission votes to reopen the community and the center for the elderly

VALPARAISO – The dozens of people who filled the rooms of the Municipal Commission of Valparaiso on Monday evening to defend their cause reopen and repair a century-old seniors and community center didn’t have the fight many expected, given Mayor Brent Smith’s strong suggestion last month that the building be torn down.

Instead, they heard Smith, along with City Commissioner Jay Denney, say they relied on what Smith called “misinformation” about the condition of the building at 268 Glenview Avenue in connection with calls to raze the structure.

Local general contractor Jerry Spence, on the microphone, addresses the Valparaiso Municipal Commission during its Monday night meeting, telling them he found

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Smith and Denney’s admissions were quickly followed by a unanimous vote by the mayor and commissioners to reopen the facility and include an option on municipal water bills allowing interested customers to make donations to repair the facility.

The building, used primarily as a seniors’ center, was closed in 2020 by the Walton Okaloosa Council on Aging – which used it to provide meals and social opportunities for the area’s elderly population – under a Florida Governor’s coronavirus-related executive order. Ron DeSantis. Seniors continued to be able to get meals through the Walton Okaloosa Council on Aging program, either by coming to the center to pick them up or having them delivered to their homes.

A photo from a report by construction contractor Jerry Spence shows one of the roof issues at the Valparaiso Community Center.  The city commission on Monday voted to reopen the facility and arranged for citizens to donate to cover the cost of repairing and maintaining the century-old structure.

“We are here to support your efforts,” Shayne Betts, director of the Walton Okaloosa Council on Aging, told commissioners at Monday’s meeting. “I’m excited to see what this commission and this community can do.”

Tom Jackley, volunteer caretaker of the Valparaiso Community Building and Senior Citizens Club, walks past the building.  Built in 1921, the structure was the municipal school and community building.  Two anonymous benefactors each pledged $10,000 for repairs to the building's roof.

Tom Jackley, site manager for the Council on Aging program at the Valparaiso Community Center, said the facility will reopen to local seniors on Feb. 23 and will be open the following Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, offering activities like bingo, Scrabble and digital bowling.

“It’s wonderful,” Jackley said of the commission’s decision to reopen the building. “We’re excited about it. We can’t wait to get going.”

Those gathered in the commission chambers on Monday evening also learned from Smith that two unnamed benefactors have each pledged $10,000 for the construction of a new roof on the building. Inspection of the building by a local contractor identified the roof as a problem, but concluded that otherwise the building was in satisfactory condition for use.

A photo from the collection of Cliff Brabham, dated 1921, hangs on the wall inside the Valparaiso Senior Citizen Club and shows the construction of the building as a school and community center for Valparaiso.

“I was frankly surprised at how good it was,” Jerry Spence of Spence Brothers Construction, who assessed the structure and prepared a two-page report of his findings, told the crowd Monday night.

In addition to fixing the roof issues, Spence’s report notes the need to replace some cracked concrete foundation blocks, maintain the fire alarm system and restore it to working order, and have the system inspected. electric.

In the immediate term, the $20,000 pledged by the two benefactors won’t quite match the city’s $23,500 estimate for the roof, a circumstance Smith told the Monday night crowd was designed to determine if the building’s advocates would be willing to support this advocacy with money.

In the meantime, Valparaiso Fire Chief Tommy Mayville is donating to the community center one of the “FEMA tarps,” the familiar blue tarps used to cover roofs damaged in natural disasters, to prevent leaks of fire. roof to further damage the structure.

Beyond that, the city has $8,000 in its general fund, a donation made some time ago by a private citizen – originally intended to address roof issues, but which fell short of that need. – who can be assigned to any additional work necessary on the building.

After Monday’s vote, a steering committee formed in the days following Smith’s suggestion to demolish the building will shift its focus from protecting the structure to the future of the facility. The committee is chaired by former Valparaiso fire chief Mark Norris, a vocal advocate for reopening the structure.

A photograph from a news story about the community center in Valparaiso shows one of the issues that will need attention when the building reopens.  City officials took steps Monday that will allow residents to contribute to the repair and maintenance costs of the century-old building.

Among the suggestions made on Monday was allowing the facility to operate as a community center that could also be rented out by individuals for weddings and other celebrations. Additionally, the steering committee plans to explore whether, and if so, how, the building could receive official historic designation.

“What we need is to reopen the facility,” Norris told the city commission ahead of its Monday night vote. Highlighting the broad community support for the building and its possibilities, Norris added, “We’ve got the gunpowder in our arsenal, let’s boom.”