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Ormond Beach Observer Friday, Jun. 7, 2019 1 year ago

Ormond Beach capital project workshop leaves MacDonald House improvements on hold

Only the mayor wanted to fund the historic property's four phases of improvements, at a total cost $890,000.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

Almost $20 million worth of projects were given a tentative thumbs-up by the City Commission at the Capital Improvements Program workshop on Tuesday, June 4, but one was notably left in limbo for the time being.

The MacDonald House.

The Ormond Beach Historical Society was hoping the city would allocate $200,000 to the first of four phases needed for exterior improvements to the historic city-owned property. Staff didn't include the project in the drafted list of general fund capital projects, though it was listed as an alternate or additional project. That category in the CIP allocated $572,567 to three projects: Improvements at The Casements (mainly funded through its Guild fundraising efforts), Community Development Block Grant projects and fiber optic connectivity. 

Only Mayor Bill Partington voiced his desire to allocate funds to the MacDonald House. He wanted to figure out a way to complete all phases, a cost of $890,000. 

“Expensive, but a lot of cities spend a lot of money on old houses," Partington said. "I look at Winter Park which has spent millions of dollars restoring old houses because they treasure their history. It’s valuable to them, and it’s important to their community.

But, he didn't get support from commission at the workshop. City Commissioner Rob Littleton said the city would be digging into its planned 17.3% in general reserve funding. With other organizations like The Casements Guild having raised $127,000 for improvements to The Casements, and the Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center working on their own fundraising efforts for building improvements, he said he had hesitations toward allocating city money without a similar effort by the Historical Society. 

Historical Society President Bonda Garrison expressed the organization's disappointment at the lack of city support at the commission meeting later that night. She said the Historical Society, the city's Landmarks Preservation and Quality of Life Boards have all been advocating for the maintenance and preservation of the MacDonald House since 2007. That was 12 years ago, she said.

Garrison said they raised $70,000 two years ago to save the house, but stopped because the city was conducting a study to find out what the improvements would cost. Raising funds isn't easy for a small organization like theirs, she said, and it would be "short-sighted" to do so without city commitment. 

“It’s one of the last structures that we can save to showcase our wonderful history," she said. "We stand ready to do our part."

At the workshop, City Commissioner Susan Persis said she'd rather opt to fund a different project over the MacDonald house: the construction of a bathroom and concessions facility at Field 7 in the Ormond Beach Sports Complex, a project that is estimated to cost $600,000, though Persis hoped it could be done for less.

None of the other commissioners favored this idea. City Commissioner Troy Kent agreed that the girls that will be using that field need a bathroom — the city is hoping to make Field 7 the primary home field for the Seabreeze High School's girls softball team — the cost was too high. 

Persis persisted, even as Selby pointed out that there are bathrooms nearby and that he wanted to make sure the city wasn't committing to doing a project because it "feels good."

“I don’t want to do it because it feels good, for sure," Persis said. "I want to do it because it’s right.”

The commission reached a compromise regarding the bathrooms by opting to direct staff to put the bathroom project on hold, and in the meantime, continue applying for grants. If the city were able to obtain grant funding, the CIP budget could then be amended.

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