News: New Community Center in Surfside Just What the Residents Asked For, Sort Of

By John Zur

The new community center in the Town of Surfside has welcomed hundreds of residents daily with overwhelmingly positive reviews pouring in.

“It is so exciting that the community center is bringing people together who have not seen each other in years,” says Mayor Daniel Dietch, adding that the new community center has also been a great benefit to the Surfside Camp, where more than a hundred campers can enjoy swim lessons and swim for free in Surfside as opposed to traveling to the aquatic facilities in Miami Shores and other locations.

“As a more than fifty year resident; nothing makes me happier or warms my heart more than watching the children and their families enjoy their new center,” says Surfside Vice Mayor Joe Graubart. The community center is full of early favorite features, such as the kiddie pool and the recreational lap pool with slide. However, the building design, beach access, bathrooms, and snack bar have also received rave reviews. Residents are also pleased with all of the programming that is being planned. Says Mayor Dietch, “In fact just yesterday the swim instruction programming was rolled out at full capacity.” Future programs will include lectures, movies, book readings, exercise. Essentially, the community center will also serve as the Town’s cultural center. Raves Dietch, “Surfside has moved into the twenty first century! This Commission and its staff have made it happen and I am personally proud of the achievement.”

With a budget of about $5 million, the construction of the community center was paid in cash from Surfside’s general fund. According to Graubart, “the funds used to build the Center were derived by depleting most of the balance in the General Funds’ reserve/surplus.” He continued, “If one examined the amount of money spent on this project versus what has been ‘delivered’ to the good people of Surfside – my demands for a forensic and performance audit of this boondoggle would not go unanswered.”

While there was much public debate over the past six years related to the concept, design, and financing of the community center, there were various standing and ad-hoc committees that evaluated options for the community center. Options included both renovation of the old community center and new construction, as well as looking at various financing mechanisms. Final decisions on design and financing occurred in 2009 and in early 2010, when the current Town Commission was elected in March of that year. At that time, the commitment was made to open the community center by summer 2011.

“There were several long-time residents who complained about the fact that the previous Commission demolished a forty-year old building and pool that had become serious safety hazards, but there will always be naysayers who want things to remain exactly as they are. Now, after many years of frustration, the majority of our residents are thrilled with the new community center and collectively, the residents’ property values will benefit. Most importantly, we have delivered on our commitment,” says Mayor Dietch.

Referring to the amount of pushback the Town received to move ahead with the project, Graubart offered, “If what you mean by “pushback” – were there cries and protests to bring the matter of demolishing the historic MIMO Community Center known as: “…the finest example of a MIMO structure for municipal use in the country…” to referendum for a vote of the people – YES, by many residents, including myself.  Would the residents of Miami Beach vote to demolish their Art Deco gems???  I don’t think so, and neither would we have. This being the exact reason we were denied the right to vote. Keep in mind that the ‘old’ Center was not only 30 – 40 years younger than many of the Beach’s Art Deco buildings – but also in much better condition.”

Speaking on behalf of the residents of Surfside, Graubart said, “The majority of residents responded unfavorably and couldn’t understand demolishing the Center BEFORE AND WITHOUT a resident approved COMPREHENSIVE plan to both finance and build or renovate the Community Center. Knowing this, the empty lot acted as a constant reminder, example and monument to arrogance and poor governance.”

For years, everyone can agree, there was a great void in the community of Surfside when the original community center was demolished. With that void replaced by an exciting, new facility the Town vows to continue to grow programs and opportunities for social, cultural, and recreational activities for all elements of Surfside. “The new Surfside is growing and thriving,” says Dietch.

Surfside currently does not allow non-residents, or even non-resident guests of Surfside residents, to utilize the community center. However, the matter will be discussed by the Parks and Recreation Committee and has been placed on the agenda for the July 12, 2011 Commission Meeting.

With the community center in place, Surfside is turning their attention to near-term projects such as the repair and replacement of the aging water, sewer, and stormwater infrastructure. Says Mayor Dietch, “After decades of neglect and millions of dollars spent on water that leaks from our water pipes and salt water that infiltrates into our wastewater pipes, the Town is proceeding with this vitally important project that will ensure the safe and environmentally sound provision of water, sewer and stormwater service for decades to come.”  The project will also bring Surfside into compliance with Miami-Dade County code by relocating the water lines from the rear of the single family properties to the front. In addition, the project will allow for greater operational efficiency through the implementation of automated meters.

“We are also improving the organization of our Town staff to better deliver services to our residents.  As part of this effort, we are developing policies and procedures, which have been sorely lacking in our Town. This effort also includes scanning hundreds of boxes of documents that have been in storage for many years. The benefits include making documents readily available for public records requests and eliminating unnecessary storage costs. We are also in the process of revitalizing our Town Website to enhance the functionality and to make it more ‘user friendly’,” says Dietch. “In short, we are modernizing and professionalizing how our Town conducts business and delivers services. The result is more transparency, greater accountability, increased responsiveness, and better value for the residents of Surfside. Slowly but surely, we are putting the “shine” back in Surfside.”

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