Residents and officials gathered under a hot late-morning sun Nov. 3 as Florida Governor Rick Scott and local officials cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening new Sheriff’s Operations Center in the former Memorial Hospital Building on State Road 100 in Bunnell.
Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson, in a speech during the event, framed the building’s opening as part of the city’s comeback.
“When you look around at all of the folks that are here today, there’s a wonderful representation from the entire county to be excited and to celebrate this new life in a building that was abandoned, gutted, and left to decay in 2002,” she said. “You know, this is the third building in the city of Bunnell in the last year that has been renovated, and that we’ve brought new life and breathed life into buildings.”
The other two were the old county courthouse, now a Christian school; and a former charter school facility that has been remade into Bunnell’s City Hall.
Robinson said she knew the old Memorial Hospital building well: Dr. John Canakaris had once mended her broken wrist there, and she’d returned to the facility to work years later as a dietitian.
“It’s beauty from ashes," she said. "This is the heart of the city of Bunnell. It’s a small community who struggles economically, and yet these types of events and these facilities bring more life down to the core of Bunnell. So it’s great economic driver for the city."
"We believe that by establishing our new Operations Center in the city of Bunnell, right here in downtown, that the small businesses and the community surrounding us will reap the benefits of economic development and safety."
— James L. Manfre, Flagler County Sheriff
Flagler County Commisioner Frank Meeker introduced the governor at the event, calling Scott a personal friend and noting that Scott had called Meeker this past week to console him after Meeker’s 5-year-old granddaughter died.
“In my case, the past week was probably the most difficult week-and-a-half of my life, having lost a very young granddaughter,” he said. “And in the midst of all this, my phone rings — not a number that I recognized; normally I would just ignore it. But I picked up on it, and here’s Governor Scott calling me up to console me in a great time of grief.”
Meeker said the new operations center has ample room for future storage and parking needs, and is a financial success story: The county had originally anticipated spending $4.6 million for a 24,000-square-foot facility, he said, but was able to add an additional 11,000 square feet while reducing its out-of-pocket costs to $4.4 million.
"That’s a pretty phenomenal accomplishment," he said.
The total cost of the building was $4.7 million, including furnishings.
Scott, in his comments, said this is “not the easiest time in our history to be in law enforcement,” and urged residents to, whenever they see a law enforcement officer, “go up and thank them.”
“They’re the ones that every day, when we want to make sure we’re safe, they put their lives at risk,” he said.
During his speech at the event, Scott presented a heroism award to Flagler County Deputy Nate Smith. Smith had been off duty jogging when he saw a car go into a canal, and, “Without thinking about his own safety, he jumps into water” to try to save the occupant of the car, Scott said. “Unfortunately, later, the individual passed away, but this is a medal of heroism from the great state of Florida, and it’a a real honor to give it to you for what you do each and every day to keep every citizen in Flagler County safe," Scott said.
“There’s a story like this every day," Scott said. "It’s a daily occurrence that somebody’s out there defending our safety.”
Flagler County Sheriff James L. Manfre said he believed that “by establishing our new Operations Center in the city of Bunnell, right here in downtown, that the small businesses and the community surrounding us will reap the benefits of economic development and safety.”
"I don’t know if this building qualifies a silk purse, and I don’t know if the original hospital building was a sow’s ear, but certainly the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners has done a marvelous job taking a piece of Flagler County history, preserving it, protecting it, and making it serve our people."
— Jon Netts, Palm Coast mayor
A government building, Manfre said, should have five attributes: it should be appealing to the eye and inspire confidence in the agency it housed, it should be accessible and welcoming, it should be efficient and reflect the community’s values, it should be visitor friendly, and it should have a positive economic and safety impact on the community. Manfre said he believes the new Operations Center fulfills all of those criteria.
Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said that “the citizens of our community recognize that our Sheriff’s Department has our back,” and praised the county for turning around the once-decrepit building.
“I don’t know if this building qualifies a silk purse, and I don’t know if the original hospital building was a sow’s ear, but certainly the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners has done a marvelous job taking a piece of Flagler County history, preserving it, protecting it, and making it serve our people,” he said.
He noted the building’s proximity to the new Palm Coast City Hall, and threw in a plug for the City Hall ribbon-cutting scheduled for later the same day, inviting the audience to attend.
“Both the Flagler County Sheriff’s Department Operations Center and the Palm Coast City Hall open their doors today to a more secure, service-oriented place for all of us to live, work and play,” he said.