Winter Park Civic Center on standby

Winter Park residents will be able to enjoy the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center for at least another 10 and a half months.

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  • | 5:39 p.m. March 24, 2017
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Winter Park residents will be able to enjoy the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center for at least another 10 and a half months.

City Commissioners made the decision on Monday to extend the window of time the civic center can accept bookings for private parties, functions and weddings, setting it for Jan. 31, 2018 instead of April 24, 2017 – the last booked date at the center.

Winter Park will say goodbye to the civic center due to the incoming library/civic center project set to be built in its place.

The new date is a result of the ongoing legal battle that has challenged that project. Those proceedings have in turn pushed back the design process, which could take another 12 to 18 months, according to the city.

The legal dispute all started following the March election last year when residents approved bonds of up to $30 million to pay for the new library project. A group of residents – a political action committee – challenged that the city didn’t properly notice the intended location of where the library would be built, which eventually put the issue in front of the judge.

In December, Orange County Judge Margaret Schreiber issued a final judgment on Dec. 7 that validated the city’s desire to finance a $30 million bond to fund the demolition of the city’s existing civic center and construction of a new municipal complex including a new events center, library and parking garage – all within Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

A second dispute from the political action committee is still ongoing though. That legal action takes issue with the city’s stance on a petition signed by more than 2,000 Winter Park residents looking to keep the library out of the park. Petitioners were required to gather 2,011 – 10 percent of the registered voters in Winter Park – to proceed.

The political action committee brought forth 2,256 signatures and had 2,034 approved.

Michael Poole, one of the residents behind the committee, told the Observer that the group could likely have obtained thousands more, but were only seeking to meet the minimum requirement.

But the group of residents received a certificate of insufficiency from city, which claimed that the political action committee did not submit their petition paperwork within the 30 days of the March 15 election – a requirement for a “reconsideration of a referendum.”

The case has gone before a panel of judges, but there has been no ruling yet.

The legal battle dragging on and on could very well change the scope of the project itself due to rising construction costs. The project was originally appraised at $32.5 million by ACi Architects, with the city paying for $30 million through the bonds and the library paying the remaining $2.5 million.

But rather than basing the cost of the project on a specific design, City Commissioners on Monday were in favor of keeping the library at the $30 million price tag originally put out to the voters.

City Manager Randy Knight said that could result in structural changes to the building.

“It may mean nothing, but it could mean less square footage,” Knight said. “It could mean instead of two buildings it’s one building so you get the economies of building it all in one building. There’s a lot of ways to value engineer it so it stays within that $30 million budget.”

Knight said the current civic center will be demolished sometime next March once the Jan. 31 date has passed.