While the Thelma A. Boltin Center has been closed off from the public since 2020, Gainesville residents can expect to hear an update on the building’s restoration plans and costs in an upcoming General Policy Committee meeting. The meeting, scheduled for Thursday at 1 p.m. at the City Hall Auditorium, will include comments from Wild Spaces and Public Places about the next steps.
In December 2020, the roof over the auditorium of the Boltin Center was found partially collapsed. A structural engineering firm recommended that either the entire building be demolished or the auditorium be demolished and replaced causing the building to potentially lose its historic charm.
After debates and discussions regarding the Boltin Center during City Commission and Historic Preservation Board meetings in 2021 and 2022, a decision was made on Dec. 7, 2022, with the Historic Preservation Board voting to restore the auditorium. Other renovations were to include demolishing and replacing the east wing of the building under the conditions that the new wing will be designed similarly to the existing wing, the auditorium will be restored to its original condition with its original windows, gallery space will be created to present the building’s history, the trees on site will be protected from construction and extension of the gymnasium must first be approved by the Historic Preservation Board.
The Boltin Center is a Gainesville treasure to many lifelong residents who don’t want the building to be demolished and want to see the historic building restored.
“But my advocacy would be to preserve as much history as possible,” Gainesville resident and former city commissioner Gary Gordon said during the Historic Preservation Board meeting in December 2022. “We’re already losing so much of Gainesville.”
According to Kathleen Kauffman’s staff report for the December 2022 meeting, the Thelma A. Boltin Center was originally built in 1942. Over the years, the building had various uses such as a recreation center, a senior center, a theater space, a town hall and more.
In the upcoming General Policy Committee meeting on Thursday, Wild Spaces and Public Places, a city department that oversees projects in Gainesville for the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, will be giving an updated presentation on the project. The project of restoring the Boltin Center comes with maintenance, operational and capital costs that can be covered through city and state spending or grants. Betsy Waite, the Wild Spaces and Public Places director who oversees and manages projects that are funded through the organization, told the board in December 2022 that the estimated project cost of restoring the building was between $4.81 million and $6.18 million.
During a City Commission and General Policy Committee Agenda Review meeting on April 12, Mayor Harvey Ward alluded, without going into detail, that there may be more to the item on the Thursday agenda.
“Can we ask Betsy to maybe be ready to talk about the larger package of items as well?” Ward asked Cynthia Curry in regard to the generic agenda item about the presentation.
Construction has not begun on the building, but Gainesville residents can expect to learn more about the Boltin Center project status on Thursday.