CLEWISTON — The Clewiston City Commission voted unanimously Monday night to purchase the Seacoast Bank building on Berner Road, advertise for an architect to produce specifications for remodeling it into a new city police headquarters, and accept a grant from the state Department of Law Enforcement to finance the project.
After the city takes over that building, Seacoast Bank will be moving its Clewiston branch to 892 W. Sugarland Highway (U.S. 27). All personal and business accounts will remain accessible to their customers during relocation.
Earlier this year, the city had sought bids twice on construction of a new police department building near its present site across the street from city hall, both times rejecting that course when the lowest bids exceeded the grant amount that had been approved by Florida’s Legislature for the project. Then a “Plan B” materialized when City Manager Al Perry approached Seacoast about buying its branch building in town, and a deal eventually was struck.
On Monday, a contract was presented that the bank had agreed to, but City Attorney Gary Brandenburg explained that it was changed slightly since a commission workshop last week, with the bank and city representatives agreeing to a closing date of Jan. 2, 2018. What changed was that a verbal accord had been reached that Seacoast would vacate no later than March 30. Originally the bank had said it might be able to be out by January and would cancel the deal by Nov. 1 if they couldn’t meet that deadline. Although Mr. Brandenburg had cleared the legal language for the change by phone with Seacoast’s attorney, a formal approval from a bank principal was not secured before the meeting. That caused city officials to have a “Plan C” option ready (using the city’s utility department building instead), just in case.
The city attorney explained that in addition to the sale closing on Jan. 2, the city also would lease back some space so the bank could continue to serve customers until March 30. The city would make a $69,000 down payment on the $690,000 purchase price if bank officials sign the contract in a conference at city hall scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Mayor Mali Gardner, noting that the time frame is tight for complying with the FDLE grant requirements, asked Mr. Perry if he believed bank officials were willing to work with the city to ensure the deal happens.
“Yes,” he responded. “We had Seacoast representatives on the phone this morning in a conference call, and they were more than willing to work with us. They agreed to close the drive-through … after the first of the year so we will have access to start construction on the sally port area of the police department.” And, considering much of the building will be undergoing remodeling from January through March, she asked if that would be a problem. Mr. Perry noted, “The areas that they most need access to, we don’t, so it works out pretty good for us.” Questions were raised about whether the deal could fall through, but the attorney assured them that once it signed, the bank couldn’t back out, so the commission approved the deal 5-0.
The matter of hiring an architect to draw plans for the remodeling prompted much discussion because of the tight time frame and financial concerns. City Engineer Tommy Perry noted officials had talked with several professionals about putting together parameters for a design deal, and they advised the city should do a design/bid rather than a design/build where the contractor would hire the architect. “A design/build on a remodel like this leaves too many things in there that can come back and bite you. You need control over the designer,” he said.
To expedite selection of an architect, commissioners passed a separate motion authorizing City Manager Perry to use a technical review committee for ranking architects who respond to the RFP and to then hire one.
“We need to not waste any more time and have our ducks in a row,” Mayor Gardner concluded.
In other business Monday night, the Clewiston City Commission unanimously honored city employees with a resolution marking Florida City Government Week (Oct. 23-29) and commending them for their work in responding to Hurricane Irma. Commissioner Kristine Petersen, a teacher, spoke about a tall, strapping young upperclassman whose family couldn’t afford to evacuate and stayed in their trailer. She said he told her: “‘Miss P., I’ve never been so scared in my life. But every time I looked out that piece of window that the board didn’t cover, I saw red lights, or I saw blue lights, or I saw city trucks, and I knew we were going to be safe.’ And it was because of all of you,” Ms. Petersen told the workers. “So I truly thank you … for leaving your families, I thank you for putting it all aside, and for giving it your all, and making sure that we came out the other side … I appreciate you tremendously.”