BIPS looks for final funding of Range Light project

■ STAFF REPORT    

The Barrier Islands Park Society has outlined the work yet to be accomplished in its restoration of the Gasparilla Island Light (formerly known as the Rear Range Light). The final stages of planning were discussed at a BIPS board meeting last week.

“Who could not be delighted, if not awed, by the progress we have made to date in restoring this beautiful island icon to its 1927 grandeur? “With the removal of tenting and scaffolding, islanders and visitors alike are seeing for the first time in decades a beautiful lady in white with its cupola and lantern room returned to black as it was over 80 years ago,” commented Jim Grant, project director. “But we’re not done yet and we need further financial help to wrap this up by season’s end.”

Grant explained when season’s fundraising campaign last wrapped up in April, donations for the restoration totaled approximately $1.2 million of the $1.83 million estimated to complete the project and establish endowments for perpetual care of both our island lighthouses.

“We had to make a decision … hold off on any work until 2017 when we would presumably have all the funding required, or start work on the structure itself immediately, deferring certain planned phases betting that we could make up the deficit this season,” Grant said. “It was an easy choice to do the latter. We had a five-star team in place – our historical restoration professionals, a world-class lighthouse architect, a world-class metalsmith and one of the finest painting contractors on the planet ready to go. We had a lighthouse which, upon examination, needed help fast as deterioration was compounding with every passing month. So when we knew we had enough money to at least pay for structural repairs and painting we voted to proceed and are darn glad we did.”

But the reality is that an additional $400,000 is needed to finish the job. Included (and overlooked by many) with this transfer of the Range Light to island governance was the 7.4 acres of Gulf beach property it stands on. Plans call for removal of all invasive species from this land and the development and maintenance of a hiking trail traversing the property.

BIPS also must re-landscape and maintain the cleared area immediately surrounding the light and build a pathway from the light to the adjacent state park parking lot. Besides work on the land the following must be paid for:

• Removal and reconstruction of the concrete “pad” the structure stands on and replacement of the historic cement and steel “fencing” surrounding it. The pad is cracked and damaged and drains into, not away from the structure.

• While the exterior is nearly finished and looks like a million bucks there’s another two months or so of work to do inside, including installation of doors and windows, painting, lighting, and purchase and installation of an exact replica of the original Fresnel lens in the lantern room atop the lighthouse.

There is also the critical and long overdue need for repairs to Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, which is also structurally at risk if it’s foundation is not repaired soon. The timbers and steel supports on the pilings must be replaced to maintain its integrity.

It has always been BIPS’ goal to raise enough money to endow a perpetual care fund for both the Gasparilla Island Light and our Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum.

To make a tax-free donation to this magnificent effort, please send checks to: Light Keeper’s Fund, P.O. Box 654, Boca Grande, Florida 33921, go online to barrierislandparkssociety.org or call 964-0060. Gifts of stock are also welcome. For more information, please contact Sharon McKenzie at smckenziebips@gmail.com or Jim Grant at grantjim@charter.net.