Heading into the city’s centennial next year, Bunnell officials signed an interlocal agreement with the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners Monday, July 9, giving them partial ownership of the historic courthouse on State Road 100, to renovate and use as their new City Hall.
Taking over 13,294 square feet of the more than-40,000-square-foot courthouse and adjoining annex (to be renovated as the sheriff’s new office), Bunnell put up $1.5 million for refurbishment of the building, and it will be responsible for all interior maintenance and utilities in their portion of the space.
Exterior maintenance and landscaping will be shared between both boards. Extra parking — possibly more than 120 spaces — will also be added after the annex project is completed.
For some Bunnell commissioners, a new City Hall could mean a new city. Vice-Mayor Jenny Crain-Brady said revitalizing the courthouse will give the city back its “heartbeat.” Commissioner Daisy Henry suggested its reopening might drive economic growth.
“Downtown is dead without that,” she said. “With the courthouse open and usable, it will bring (restaurants and companies) in.”
Before the deal was done, though, officials explored the possibility of passing full ownership of the courthouse to Bunnell, instead of interlocal ownership (similar to a condo contract).
Modeled after the arrangement currently in place at the Government Services Building — where county staff shares space with the School Board — the agreement, according to County Administrator Craig Coffey, is about simplicity.
“It’s just a matter of working together,” he said, noting that sharing the space means hiring just one lawn crew, maintaining one exterior policy and limiting liability issues. “(But) we did try to make, essentially, a pre-nup separation. … I think it would be good for you guys to own it in the future … if the sheriff moves out.”
Commissioner Nate McLaughlin opposed the county retaining any ownership, however. Bunnell Commissioners Elbert Tucker and John Rogers, and City Manager Armando Martinez, voiced support for outright ownership, as well.
“I’m not going to go over to the city of Flagler Beach and offer to mow their lawn,” McLaughlin said. “If I was sitting on one of the other councils, I would be thinking, ‘What are you guys doing?’”
McLaughlin also opposed, at a previous meeting, the Sheriff’s Office moving into the annex, since there is a playground nearby.
His protests were outnumbered, though. At the workshop’s end, each board agreed to approve the agreement at its next regular meeting.
“What we’re doing here, this is like getting married,” County Commissioner George Hanns said.