Historic Preservation Board begins to decide future of Thelma A. Boltin Center

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The Gainesville Historic Preservation Board conducted its monthly meeting at City Hall on Tuesday to vote on the future of the Thelma A. Boltin Center.

In a 5-1 vote with one abstention, the board decided to preserve the building’s auditorium, while demolishing and renovating the east wing under conditions recommended by the staff.

These conditions include restoration of the original windows, gallery space allocated in high traffic areas, a slight extension of the gymnasium, trees being preserved on site and the new wing to be comparable to the existing wings so that it will not overpower the design of the auditorium. The new wing design will require the Historic Preservation Board’s final approval.

Next, the vote goes to the city commission, which does have the ability to override the historic board’s decision.

Elizabeth Hauck, a historic preservation board member, said, “Hopefully with the board vote and the community support, they will keep the building.”

The board received a proposal from REG Architects on Nov. 6, that proposes the project will cost $4.8 million on the low end and $6.2 million on the high end. There is no exact estimate yet.

The city has allocated $3 million for the Thelma A. Boltin Center project; however, some believe that the budget is unrealistic. Historic Preservation Board member, Michael Hill is against the proposal, voting abstention.

“I serve on this board to protect our historic communities and our historical resources of this city, and that is my obligation, as a representative of this community,” Hill says. “And I’m sorry but I cannot stand by and say yeah, I’ll approve your permit even though you don’t really know how much you’re going to spend.”

Located at 516 NE 2nd Ave., the Thelma A. Boltin Center was built in 1943 as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Initiative. The historic building was originally known as the Gainesville Servicemen Center for hosting entertainment for U.S. Servicemen.

According to the Historical Marker Database, the city of Gainesville bought the building for $12,500 in 1946, renaming it the Thelma A. Boltin Center after its director, Thelma Boltin in 1991.

Many in attendance at the meeting voiced their support for preserving the Thelma A. Boltin building, as new buildings continue to pop up in Gainesville, many find it important to keep the historical buildings alive and well.

Kathleen Kauffman, historical preservation officer says, “It’s been in the neighborhood for almost 80 years, so the neighborhood is really passionate about it.”

The building has been used for a multitude of different recreational activities. Wedding receptions, civic meetings, concerts and dances are just some of the activities that have been hosted there. Residents shared fond memories of their time spent at the Thelma A. Boltin center.

“This building is really important to me. The last thing I did in the building before COVID-19, my best friend got married and I did their ceremony for them, so it’s a really special building,” Hauck says.

Although it has a rich history, the building has faced structural issues and setbacks in past years. In 2019, the Gainesville City Commission approved plans for renovations, but in March 2020, the building shut its doors due to COVID-19. In Dec. 2020, the roof collapsed, prompting for the demolition after three inspections by Sputo and Lammert Engineering LLC.

At the meeting, many attendees brought up the issue of why the structural damage and termite infestation weren’t being properly looked after. Chairman, Jay Reeves says that city budget cuts may have been to blame.

The building is on the national register of Historic Buildings so a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) was granted by the Historic Preservation board to demolish the east wing.

Further plans for the center will be discussed at the next meeting.

About Brooke Hughes

Brooke is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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