VERO BEACH — A building that played a key role in 20th century Vero Beach will be nothing but a memory by the end of the month.
Thousands of locals – from teachers and school officials to doctors, nurses, county workers and people seeking to renew their driver’s licenses – passed through the doors of the worn-out structure at the corner of 26th Street and 20th Avenue.
Built in 1950 as the third version of the county hospital, the concrete block building later served as the county government center and school district headquarters.
“Our county commission offices were in the operating room, and the school offices were in the old maternity wing,” said Indian River County historian Ruth Stanbridge, who was a county commissioner from 1998-2002. “The building served the county’s needs.”
On a site visit earlier this month, County Administrator Jason Brown watched as two massive backhoes smashed into rubble the building where he was born and later worked as county finance director.
“When I worked here, I used to say I haven’t gotten too far [in life], since I was born down the hall from my office,” quipped Brown, who rose through the ranks to take the top job in county government this year. He recalled that when he worked in the building it still had the old wide hospital doors that swung open and even the big elevators, sized to carry gurneys.
The 32,000-square-foot building served as the county hospital until the current Indian River Medical Center facility on 37th Street was built in 1978-79. After the doctors and nurses moved out, the county acquired the 7.39-acre property and converted the building into the county administration center, starting in 1980.
In 2007, the county moved out of its section of the building into the new complex two blocks north.
Indian River School District officials began renting space in the building in 1982 and spent the next 33 years there, up until last November, when the last district personnel moved out, said spokesman Flynn Fidgeon.
Brown said the school district had a sweet deal with the county – paying $3,750 a month for space that accommodated the superintendent’s offices, school board meetings, teacher training sessions and administrative gatherings.
In 2014, school officials decided to build a new school district complex at 6500 57th Street after being told it would cost $4.3 million to fix the building it was leasing from the county. After the district moved out, the county made the decision to knock the building down.
“Based upon the building’s condition, the county determined that the most cost-effective option was to demolish the structure,” Brown said, adding that there are no plans for any specific projects on the site, which will remain as open land available for future needs.
Summit Construction of Vero Beach, LLC won the demolition contract with a bid of $109,000, which was approved by the County Commission in March.
Fort Pierce-based L.E.B. Demolition Consulting Contractors Inc. is the subcontractor actually tearing the building down.
Nine dump trailers are removing the debris, with steel being salvaged at two cents per 100 pounds, according to Randy Beckford, co-owner of L.E.B. Demolition.
“They certainly got their use out of it,” Beckford said of the building as the backhoes continued to tear big chunks out of the 66-year-old edifice. Beckford said he expects demolition to be finished by the end of September, after the concrete slabs are pulled out and transported to a dump.
“That’s what I want to do when I grow up – demolition,” joked Brown as he watched the building and part of his past being demolished. “Time marches on.”