A Q&A session regarding the Gasparilla Island Light

March 18, 2016
By Marcy Shortuse

At its board meeting on Monday, March 14, the Barrier Island Parks Society announced its intention to launch an aggressive fund- raising campaign to enable a complete restoration and perpetual maintenance of the island’s Rear Range Light (now officially “Gasparilla Island Light”).
Island residents and businesses will be asked for donations to “help keep the light shining on Boca Grande.” Letters requesting donations will be in the mail shortly.
Jim Grant, chair of the restoration initiative, submitted a number of common questions and answers about the effort.
“Our goal is very simple – complete restoration inside and out to its 1927 splendor,” Grant said. “Secondly, to raise enough money quickly to enable the work to be accomplished this summer, giving us our island icon back in mint condition for the 1916/17 season.”
Grant stated that if a significant portion of funding needs are not met shortly, work could be deferred for a year.
I’ve been reading and hearing about a range light initiative for years. What exactly is it, and what’s involved?
We are talking about the 105-ft.-tall range light located mid-island, which has not been maintained for decades and is in dire need of repair.
It is a fabulous icon of this beautiful community, built in Delaware in 1881 and moved to Gasparilla Island in 1927. It was first lit in 1932 and is still active, flashing every six seconds during the evening hours.
The light structure and the 7.4 acres of land it sits on are adjacent to Gasparilla Island State Park.
After years of negotiation, the land and structure are in the process of being leased to the Barrier Islands Park Society (BIPS) so that the lighthouse can be restored, maintained, operated and preserved for generations to come.
Why is it necessary to restore the range light?
The current structure is an eyesore and in need of immediate attention, having last been painted over 20 years ago. Both inside and out, corrosion and rust are quietly eating away at the structure and foundation. At some point, without maintenance, it will fall down in a storm or become a hazard and require removal.
With this project, the 7.4-acre beachfront property, valued in the millions, and the lighthouse will forever be protected from development. The lease from the United States Coast Guard is revocable by either party, and our failure to fund and restore the range light and care for the property could see an eventual government auction of the land, which would be our worst nightmare.
What does restoration imply?
It is BIPS’ intent, with the full blessing of both the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Land Management, to restore this lighthouse to its original 1927 condition. In 2010, this range light was declared a historical national lighthouse. Accordingly, the work to be done to bring it back to its former glory will be subject to strict compliance with rules and standards for repairing and restoring the structure.
All of the design and work to be accomplished must, therefore, encompass historical research to assure compliance with requirements of the State Historic Preservation Office, which has already approved our restoration plans. Those plans include replacing “original” doors and windows, interior steps and railings, and rebuilding the original hexagonal concrete base and cement-steel fence.
And one more promise … the light will keep shining on Boca Grande, as the United States Coast Guard will keep it operative as an aid to navigation.
What else might you be planning for the property?
For two reasons, very little. First, our Board believes, as we think our island community does, that our goal should be as simple as stated – restoration of the structure to the year 1927, a simple looped nature trail, an ADA-compliant pathway and tasteful, low-profile interpretive signage. No other buildings or adjacent structures, no surprises.
The neighborhood and island experience must remain unchanged, with the exception of a beautiful lighthouse and cleaned-up grounds, including the removal of all invasive species on the 7.4-acre land site.
The second reason is that we choose to and must subscribe to resource management and environmental impact plans prescribed by the Bureau of Land Management, which will be the owner of the property ultimately. Our agreement as lessee and custodian will be driven by the BLM’s mission in holding such lands: “to protect, conserve, and enhance the unique and nationally important historic, natural, cultural, scientific, educational, scenic, and recreational values of the Federal land surrounding the Lighthouse for the benefit of present generations and future generations of people of the United States.”
When will the restoration start, and how long will it take?
We are ready to start this project immediately, but we will not and cannot proceed until we are assured of funding. If we can substantially achieve our funding goals by May 1, plans can be finalized enabling work to commence in the latter half of 2016. The work will encompass repair or reconstruction of much of the rusted, corroded infrastructure (inside and out), scaffolding and sandblasting the entire structure, repairing or reconstructing the base it stands on, including original fencing and landscaping, painting inside and out, and even reinstalling original windows, doors, and other special features.
We think the project can be completed in eight to 10 months.
How much is this effort going to cost, and who is going to do the work?
BIPS will contract with two globally recognized historical lighthouse experts to oversee and undertake the restoration effort, with local committee oversite of fundraising, design, restoration and ultimate management of the property.
Alex Klahm Architectural Metal and Design, Inc., of St. Petersburg, Florida will perform the work. Klahm is a metalsmith designer who has been creatively active in the ornamental metals industry for 25 years, and a craftsman whose work has been nationally awarded throughout his career. He has designed and produced architectural metalwork of exceptional quality for private and public commissions nationally and internationally.
He is active in the historical preservation community, having restored the original metalwork on 21 national lighthouses, including nine in the state of Florida.
Alex will be working closely with Anthony Houllis from Razorback, LLC. Anthony’s company will be executing the sand and paint process. Anthony has worked on several lighthouses in the state of Florida with Alex, including St. Augustine, Sanibel and most recently Key West.
Kenneth Smith Architects, of Jacksonville will also be working on the project. Founded in 1984, Kenneth Smith Architects enjoys a state and regional reputation for historical restoration design work. Their work has been honored with more than 60 restoration design awards.
His lighthouse restoration projects include Amelia Island Lighthouse, St. Augustine Lighthouse, Fowley Rocks Lighthouse, Tybee Island Lighthouse, Sapelo Island Lighthouse, Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Anclote Key Lighthouse, Crooked River Lighthouse, St. Simons Island Lighthouse, St. Marks Lighthouse and Cape St. George Lighthouse.
Our projected funding needs are $1,783 million. This will pay for all metalwork reproduction, repair and replacement; sanding and painting inside and out; landscaping, pathways, invasive species removal; and one-time critical structural repairs to the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum. It also encompasses a perpetual care endowment fund for both our island lighthouses.
What access to the repaired structure do you anticipate?
We anticipate that upon completion of this project, limited and controlled access to the interior of Gasparilla Island Light will be enabled, not to exceed one day a month.
While details will be the responsibility of our governance board, access will most probably be limited to certain days of the year, by appointment, and at a cost. The lighthouse could never be accessed without staff or volunteer accompaniment, will not be open on a daily basis, and will not be marketed directly as a new destination on our island.
Do you have any concerns over your ability to raise the capital needed?
This is not the best year to be “passing the hat,” given the phenomenal generosity that flowed forth in support of the Mercabo site purchase and fundraising effort, but the Boca Grande community has a proud history of supporting island initiatives that improve our island, protect our land and realize future endowments for our children and grandchildren.
With the transfer of this property to island management and care, our community gains lifetime immunity of this land use for anything other than enjoyment and recreation. And having the range light itself restored to the island icon it once was, with the light burning forever … priceless!
We believe strongly that such a goal is achievable, and the potential penalty for not achieving our goal could be to forfeit the property for other uses.
Will the endowment set up from your fundraising also assure continued, long-term maintenance of the existing lighthouse and museum?
Yes, Port Boca Grande, the lighthouse and museum at the southern tip of our island, is also in need of repair to its foundation, and because it is a wooden, historical landmark. it requires frequent painting and occasional lumber replacement and structural enhancements.
We intend to use the new endowment to maintain both of these island treasures for perpetuity.
How do I contribute to this effort?
BIPS is a 501(c)3 organization, and gifts to BIPS qualify as tax-deductible contributions. Checks should be made out to “The Light Keeper’s Fund” and mailed to P. O. Box 654, Boca Grande, FL 33921. Gifts of stock are welcome. Please contact Sharon McKenzie at BIPS for details: 964-0060 or smckenziebips@gmail.com.
Memorial contributions, bequests and all donations will be acknowledged. It is planned to recognize all donors in alphabetical order, with no dollar amounts, at the site of Gasparilla Island Light.