TARPON SPRINGS — It’s not often that windows are a subject of lengthy debate and discussion during a local government meeting.
When the windows in question comprise a highly visible aspect of an historic building on one of the busiest streets in town, and the question centers on whether to restore or replace the aging glass work, however, passionate opinions on the subject could be expected.
That passion was on full display Nov. 13, as the City Commission was tasked with approving or denying a recommendation to restore 38 windows at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, a massive wood and red brick and building at 101 S. Pinellas Ave. that has been a fixture in the city since it was constructed in 1915.
“All of us know what the issues have been with this building and that’s been the windows,” City Manager Mark LeCouris said. The question has been should the city did City Hall and replace the windows or, as recommended by the Historic Preservation Board, preserve them, he said.
LeCouris said both options had been discussed extensively and estimates had been procured for each, and while he noted valid arguments could be made for both options, LeCouris said staff ultimately sided with the HPB and recommended the windows be restored.
“I know this board wants to maintain the historical aspects of this building, so I’m bringing forward for your approval Option A, the recommendation from the Historic Preservation Board to preserve and restore the windows as opposed to replacing them,” he said while noting restoration was the cheaper of the two options.
Historic Preservation Board Chairwoman Cindy Tarapani said she was “really glad to see that the project is finally moving forward,” adding, “the building has been deteriorating a long time.”
It was important to preserve the cultural center, Tarapani said, “due to its historical importance to this town. It was our City Hall, originally, and now it continues as a great building for cultural activities with exhibits and lectures.”
Tarapani also noted the City Commission was obligated to approve the preservation board’s recommendation since the allotted time to deny it had elapsed.
“If you want to be remembered as the Board of Commissioners who didn’t follow their own rules, even though everybody else in the historic district has to, and forever change the historic nature of this building, then go ahead and vote for Option B, which I personally and professionally do not think you have the legal right to do because that option was not approved by the preservation board,” Tarapani said. “But if you want to be remembered as the Board of Commissioners who value history, who value our historic buildings and who renovated this building for the next generations, the vote to repair the historic windows is the right vote.”
Despite the admonishment, city commissioners did not unanimously approve the recommendation.
Commissioner Rea Sieber expressed concerns about repairing the windows rather than replacing them. New windows would be energy-efficient, impact-resistant and hurricane proof, Sieber noted, adding that the new windows at City Hall “still have the historical aesthetics” of the building, which originally was the home of Tarpon Springs High School.
“I just feel that we could keep the aesthetics of the building and the historical value,” Sieber said, adding she believed the $38,000 difference in cost was negligible compared to the long-term savings new windows would provide. “I feel that we need to replace them just for the safety issues and meeting the building code. So, I do not approve of preserving them.”
Commissioners Jacob Karr, Susan Kikta and David Banther supported the recommendation. Kikta said she had weighed both options but concluded, “I think preserving what we have is a better option at this point.”
The commission ultimately voted 3-1 in favor of the recommendation to restore the windows, with Sieber casting the lone ‘no’ vote. Mayor Chris Alahouzos was absent.
After the meeting, Sieber elaborated on the reason behind her decision.
“I’m not against historic preservation. I grew up in Europe and have been a proponent for a long time,” she said. “But I’m about thinking logically. The new windows would be safer, more energy efficient and save money in the long run. I mean every time we have a storm we have to board up the old windows because installing shutters would ruin the aesthetics. That’s a wasted expense of taxpayer’s money.”
Sieber said she understood her vote would be unpopular but couldn’t let that sway her decision.
“Every once in a while, you have to do what’s logical,” she said. “I vote how I think is right.”