There is a clearer focus in the objectives to complete the Mound House project now that the Fort Myers Beach Town Council has had the opportunity to discuss four main goals to get Estero Island's historic property open.
Council gave Town staff consensual approval during a late afternoon workshop at Town Hall on Tuesday, May 8. Discussions centered on the recent grant, observation pier, parking and house renovation issues.
Plans are still to get the property open to full capacity before the end of 2012. All elements seem to be in place except for the observation pier, which may need more time in 2013.
Town Attorney Jim Humphrey began the work session by expressing collective pride in receiving the $445,000 state grant for furniture, fixtures, displays and other items to turn the house into a museum and restore the William H. Case House to its 1921 grandeur. The funds are available July 1.
"How you spend this money is very important. This declared historic structure would need a request for qualifications instead of bids. Look at ensuring that people with experience in historical structures are involved with this project," he said.
Town manager Terry Stewart confirmed that grant money would not go toward regular renovation work. His staff has been directed to work on the final design and acquisition of items needed for the making of a first-class museum.
"This grant will enable this Council to complete the vision," he said. "It is a tremendous asset in allowing us to fulfill the dream and not have it sit there as an empty shell."
Councilman Alan Mandel made certain references about recommendations made by the Town's Cultural and Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board. He asked for consensus that planning for the house's interior exhibits will run at the same time as restoration of the building itself.
"We should look for experts to help start the preparation of the exhibits while the construction is going on in the house," he said.
Council then narrowly approved the construction of an observation pier, one that may be smaller in size than the originally proposed one but still be allowed to have fishing allowed on it. There were safety concerns that children may be at risk during fishermen casting, but Stewart quelled that part of the discussion.
"The Town certainly has the right to control whether or not fishing will be allowed when classes or tours are on the pier. We can easily put signage up there to that effect," he said. Parks director Pattie Evans was asked to update Council with weekly reports once the pier is open.
Town officials reported most of the necessary groundwork has been done for the observation pier. Town Public Works Director Cathie Lewis will be the project manager of the construction project.
"Right now the specifications are 75 to 80 percent complete," she said. "I think it'll be eight to nine months to finish up the design plans (for the observation pier), get it through Town permitting, put it up to bid, select a contractor and do the construction."
Vice Mayor Bob Raymond was uncomfortable with having the project pushed into next year. Stewart will meet with staff to establish a timeline that may be more time suitable.
Regarding parking, each Council member weighed in with their opinions as to where additional vehicles should be placed when visitors drive to the site at the end of Connecticut Street. Besides the few spots on the backside of the house, the Town owns property at 216 Connecticut, may look into purchasing the property adjacent to the Mound House site, may consider hard-packed shell parking just inside the gate on the right-hand side or enter a joint-use parking agreement with First Baptist Church of Fort Myers Beach at the corner of Connecticut Street and Estero Boulevard.
The CELCAB recommendation is to use the latter and provide a shuttle to transport Mound House visitors to the site for the short-term option and rezoning the 216 Connecticut site for long-term usage.
Stewart reported the Baptist church is willing to rent out parking to the Town. A suggested cost of $200 a month to do so is in the discussion stages.
Creating more parking spots within Mound House property is conceivable, but Lewis pointed out an underground storm water collection area to carry hydrocarbons away from the bay will need to be constructed with approval from the Department of Environmental Protection agency and the water management district.
Councilman Joe Kosinski, an engineer by trade, confirmed the report by stating he believes the proposed parking spaces would need to be sloped slightly toward the interior drive with an added catch basin.
"It can be done. You just need the time to look into it," he said.
Lewis reported bids for the house renovations are really close to being sent out and believes that, once a contractor is hired, the job should be done by year's end.
"I figure that we'll be doing substantial completion in November or the early part of December with the final (construction) by the end of the year," she said.