PAL may get new home at City Hall property

BY PRU SOWERS

KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER

Hoping to solve two problems with one resolution, the Key West City Commission has given the go-ahead to move the Police Athletic League (PAL) into the former gym building behind city hall.

Commissioners voted unanimously to begin negotiations with PAL, a youth recreation program, to lease the empty gym at the edge of the city hall parking lot. The building, along with an adjacent locker room that is currently being used by Star of the Sea Outreach Mission for its meals program, was given to the city by the Monroe County School Board as part of a land swap deal. The front building, the former Glynn Archer Elementary School, received a $18 million renovation and is now the new Key West City Hall.

Although officials hadn’t decided on a use for the former gym building, the city was proceeding with $450,000 worth of maintenance repairs to the dilapidated structure. The city engineering department had prepared contractor bids to replace the roof, air conditioning system and repair broken windows.

Now, with the commission’s direction, another $425,000 will be added to the renovation budget to bring the building up to code for use as a recreational structure.

“It’s an athletic facility. They’ll need restrooms and water,” said Key West City Manager Jim Scholl. “The initial response from PAL is, yes, they’re interested.”

PAL, a recreation-oriented juvenile crime prevention program that offers year-round classes, sports and other recreational activities to local youths, is currently housed in a 23,000-square-foot building along the Truman Waterfront. But the fate of that building is up in the air. A 2012 report by city engineers said it would be less expensive to knock the building down than to repair it. Adding to the uncertainty, the Truman Waterfront Park master plan calls for a new soccer field to be build. Currently, there is a sports field located on 3.4 acres near Bahama Village. But the city is contemplating putting affordable housing on the site and commissioners earlier passed a resolution stating that cannot happen until a location for a new field is found within the waterfront park. With the new amphitheater currently under construction in the waterfront park, the only space large enough to house the field is where the PAL building is located.

Commissioner Billy Wardlow, worried that the stalemate would leave PAL without a home, suggested that the former gym building behind the White Street city hall be offered to the youth program, “so we won’t have any more delay.”

“It doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere down there,” he said, referring to the fate of the current PAL building. “I figured it was the least of two evils to move [PAL] there at city hall. It was a gym before. It would be in the center of the city. Everybody will be able to use it more conveniently.”

Moving PAL from one city-owned building to another and using taxpayer funds to renovate the former gym building would be in keeping with the city’s commitment to providing youth recreational facilities throughout Key West, Scholl said. The request for proposals for the initial repairs to the former gym will now be expanded to include the whole project, with a budget of $875,000.

Wardlow, a long-time PAL supporter, said the former gym building structure is solid. He wants the lease deal to be finalized as soon as possible.

“I’d like to see something started before they get put on the back burner. We need to help the kids of the community,” Wardlow said.

PAL was first incorporated in 1910 with the purpose of developing bonds between police officers and local youths. Some of the afterschool and weekend programs in Key West include boxing and basketball leagues and a summer camp for kids. The basketball league operates out of the Frederick Douglass Gym in Bahama Village.