Restoration work on former Miami High School building set for completion in October
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Restoration work on Miami's first high school — to be converted into park offices for the city of Miami — is nearing completion, city officials say.
In 2002, the 103-year-old structure was going to be demolished to build a high-rise development in its place, but a coalition of the Dade Heritage Trust, the city and alumni of the old Miami High worked together to save the old structure from the wrecking ball, said Becky Roper Matkov, trust president.
Developer Kevin Reilly, of KV Brickell Partners Ltd., agreed to donate the building to the city for public use and paid $35,000 toward the relocation next to Brickell's Southside Park that took place in 2003, she said.
The high school opened its doors in 1905 to a class of 49 students, but when the student population outgrew the building, it was moved to the Southside area in 1911, said Ann Marie Clyatt, alumni coordinator for old Miami High and Dade Heritage trustee. She said it served three years as Southside's elementary school as the area built a permanent building. After that, it was converted to a boarding house and then went into "obscurity" until 2001 when efforts to rescue the historical site began, she said.
The city had a strong need for a manager's office at Southside Park on Southwest 11th Street, Ms. Roper said.
"It was having a lot of undesirable use so it would benefit the city and the community to have a manager there," she said, as the park is located in a fast-growing neighborhood that could benefit from more resources.
The renovated building, set to be complete by October, is to have three main rooms: a "historic" classroom to be used for small meetings and tours, a park manager office and a community learning center.
"It will be used productively from a historic perspective and also for office space use," she said.
But raising money to transform the former school building has proved challenging, she said.
It took years for the trust to get approval for a $350,000 grant from the state's bureau of historic preservation, an additional $300,000 from Miami-Dade County General Obligation Bond monies allocated to the project and another $55,000 from city coffers.
However, unexpected administrative delays and additional construction costs have left the trust with a $47,000 shortfall in funding, Ms. Roper said.
Restoration costs on the site have now added up to more than $750,000.
The trust is currently fundraising to lock up additional funds to pay for the shortfall.
Renovations to the original structure are "labor intensive" and much of is done by hand including sanding and painting the building, she said.
Adding new oak floors, installing an air conditioning system and making the structure handicap-accessible are some other priorities in the restoration checklist.
The trust attempts to "capture the original feel of the building" by keeping the original open porch, high ceilings and big windows of the bungalow-style structure, Ms. Roper said.
Historic designation is to be sought once the building renovations are completed. "Miami has such few buildings from that era, and this is one of them," she said.
Miami's parks and recreation department plans to covert its allotted space into a Southside Recreation Center to include a computer room, public restrooms and park offices, from where it hopes to run several afterschool sports programs for the children in the community, said Ernest Burkeen, director of Miami's parks and recreation.
The new park building is to help address the need for parks in an area where the closest complex is at Simpson Park on 55 SW 17th Road, he said. Unlike Southside, Simpson
Park is a nature park and not designed for recreational use.
"Once the park is fully operating it will be great for the community to have a park option for the young and old."