Sometimes, a fire escape is a simple safety mechanism. But sometimes (or this time), it’s the final piece in the much-anticipated, long-delayed renovation of the GLBT Center of Central Florida’s headquarters, located on Mills Ave.

The fire escape isn’t solely to blame for setting the project back about a year longer than planned. “The building was built in 1941,” says Terry DeCarlo, executive director of The Center. “There have been no major upgrades or renovations until this came about. Code enforcement in 1941 was a lot different than [now], and we had to bring everything up to code.”

The permit for the fire escape had not been signed off of by the time this issue of Watermark went to press, but Tim Vargas, president of The Center’s Board of Directors, says the head of permitting for the city gave them a pass, and they’re hoping to have permit in hand this week.

“It’ll go pretty darn quick; we’re thinking three to four weeks for construction,” Vargas says. “God willing, fingers crossed, we’re hoping for a mid-February open.”

In the meantime, most of the renovation projects have been checked off the list.

“The outside has been completely redone, there’s a new roof, brand new windows, and windows upstairs are reopened – they were all ply-wooded over – and the inside has been dry-walled,” DeCarlo says. “The things left to do are the fire escape in the back, finishing the paint on the inside, putting some new LED lighting on the inside, and the last thing is putting down the carpet tiles, and that’s it.”

Despite the delays, DeCarlo says they’re still within their $194,000 budget, which was formed through a combination of fundraisers and a city of Orlando Community Development Block Grant for nearly $150,000.

During the construction, The Center has been operating out of the building next door, which was formerly the home of Funky Monkey Vault and before that, a pharmacy.

“It’s a little rough, because I get so many community groups who do want to meet or hold events, and I haven’t been able to do it,” DeCarlo says. “I’ve been feeling really bad. I don’t have that space.”

He mentions that despite the renovations, space will continue to be an issue for The Center.

“[The renovated building] building hasn’t opened yet and I’m already looking at running out of space,” he says. “We are growing so fast and so rapidly.”

Therefore, at a retreat Jan. 9-10, the Board of Directors decided to expand operations into the neighboring building.

“The board resolved over the weekend that rather than lease out the Funky Monkey Vault building that we own, we’re actually going to absorb that into the operations of The Center, effectively doubling the square footage of The Center,” Vargas says. “We’re going tostart working with architects to figure out how we open walkways between the buildings, how we’ll lay it out, and there will need to be some renovations on that building.”

Vargas says they have several options to fund that project, including requesting another grant from the city.

“We already operate within the city’s identified at risk communities so we know we could make a strong case there,” he says.

Another option is tapping into the buildings’ equity, as Vargas says the property is valued at $1.3 million but they’re only carrying a mortgage of $190,000. He says there are a few organizations in town interested in renting office space in their renovated headquarters and of course, fundraising is always an option.
Vargas estimates the new project will cost about $100,000.

In addition to expanding their headquarters, the Board also decided to expand their staff.

“We will be hiring a development director for the organization this year,” Vargas says. “Somebody who is good at grant writing, somebody who can operate the corporate membership side of the house, dealing with foundations, corporations, get them really engaged in what The Center does.”

He says they hope to have a job posting in the next 45-60 days, with the goal of having the development director in place for June 1. They’ve put the position’s salary into the budget for the coming year and are looking at longer term funding sources, including a grant out of Rollins College and other foundation resources throughout the country.

“We came away from the retreat with a list of about 20-25 programs and services The Center should have to be on par with other GLBT centers across the nation,” Vargas says. “Those programs and services take money, and really, one of the things we found recently is given our staffing level, and given the number of things we do today, we’re actually running fairly thin as far as staffing levels are concerned.”