Old School Square Workshop

On May 9th Delray's City Commission held a workshop with board members from the Old School Square Center for the Arts (OSSCFA). The city’s website stated the workshop was held for “Collaborative Dialogue and Relationship Building Involving Old School Square (OSS).”

Mayor Shelly Petrolia did not seem to understand the purpose of the workshop when she opened the meeting (at the 1:21 minute mark) by saying, “I’m kind of at a little bit at a loss, I’ve asked over and over again what we’re doing…”  The remaining four City commissioners expressed a full understanding of the goal of the workshop, summed up by Commissioner Angela Burns, was “mending fences” and Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston, “I’m excited to finally be here. This is a workshop that should have happened a long time ago.”

Executive Board members of OSS opened the dialogue explaining a desire to rebuild trust with the city sharing its institutional knowledge gained over the past 32 years.  As Patty Jones, Chair of OSS said, “We look forward to the future and the healing of our community.  We are truly here to help”.

Chairman Emeritus Francis Bourque, spoke about the history of the campus grounds, describing the desolate buildings in the 80’s and a downtown in decline. Until, as Francis said, “Citizens began to imagine a different place. The spirit of its past and the desire to be part of its future was born. Old School Square with its history; its central location; and a town wanting to find itself, changed the mentality of a community and a downtown Delray was possible.”  Francis said that in the following decades the grounds grew to be an important community center, driven by a not-for-profit, volunteer endeavor.  Bourque said, “Old School Square is YOUR center, YOUR gathering place, YOUR voice, that is the formula for its magic.”

Four of the city commissioners expressed a unifying remembrance of the past and mission to look to the future together with OSS.  The lone outlier and voice of vitriol was Mayor Petrolia saying, “Forgive me if I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy.”

Mayor Petrolia - who along with Commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson - voted in August 2021 to terminate the OSS lease “without cause.”  This vote was on a non-agenda item with no public notice or input.  The decision to terminate “without cause” was a procedural maneuver to deny Old School Square Center for the Arts the opportunity to remedy any problem.   Despite the "without cause" rationale, Mayor Petrolia proceeded to enumerate the reasons (causes) why she led the drive to terminate OSS.  She claimed that financial information was not turned in to the city. Petrolia also spoke of the damage left in the Crest theater after OSSCFA vacated the leasehold.

Jeff Perlman, OSSCFA executive board member, answered Petrolia regarding financials not being turned in “we did, we brought the financials; we provided late audits because we had COVID; an auditor quit…. Those audits were clean, so these allegations that you [Petrolia] are making are libelous. And about the taxpayers picking up the bill for the Crest Theater and the commercial kitchen….we had that paid for with a donor [but] we were thrown out.”

When emotions calmed, Vice Mayor Boylston suggested that the commission revisit the Colletta report funded by the CRA in 2006 and consider following its recommendation to start a Cultural Council of Delray Beach to set a vision for all to assure that the City, OSSCFA and the CRA are heading in the right direction.  After all commissioners and the OSSCFA group spoke, there was a consensus to pursue a cultural council appointed by the commission that would help shape the arts and entertainment culture in the city and ultimately oversee the OSS campus.

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