HURRICANE WILMA FIVE YEARS LATER
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- STORY: Five years later: Bids going out to rebuild Wilma-damaged Farmers' Market
- PHOTO GALLERY: Five year later - the Immokalee Farmers Market is still a disaster
- STORY: Historic Everglades City Hall remains a town bedrock after Wilma repairs
- PHOTO GALLERY: Cape Romano still recovering five years after Hurricane Wilma roared over
- PHOTO GALLERY: Reader photos from the Immokalee Farmers Market in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma
- PHOTO GALLERY: View our entire photo archives from the arrival and aftermath of Hurricane Wilma
EVERGLADES CITY — Everglades City Hall weathered many storms in its 82 years at the center of town — the most notable was Hurricane Wilma because it nearly wiped out the two-story historic building five years ago Sunday.
City Hall, with its four white pillars, went from being a diamond in the rough before Wilma to being just plain rough after the storm. Now it’s ready to weather the next storm, city officials said.
The foundation and stairs could have used some improvements before Hurricane Wilma struck on Oct. 25, 2005. Afterward, however, windows, doors, floors, walls and ceilings needed restoration.
“It went from just an old building, and then, when Wilma hit, it was windowless. It was completely flooded. Computers, everything, I mean everything, everything, everything was just completely gone,” recalled Raquel Pines, the city’s bookkeeper.
The two-story white concrete building that overlooks the town circle in Everglades City was condemned immediately following the storm. The building at that time housed the library, council chambers and government offices, all of which were moved to trailers.
Meanwhile, Everglades City Mayor Sammy Hamilton sought money to restore City Hall, which was the original Collier County Courthouse until the county seat moved from Everglades to East Naples in 1962.
The old courthouse cost $24,563 and was completed in 1928, historians of the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation say.
The approximately $3.5 million restoration, Pines said, took about 15 months to complete. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided most of the grant money, while county and state dollars helped.
“(Hamilton) was everything in making it happen,” Pines said. “He did the whole thing and did it very quickly.”
He scheduled everything, met with everyone and secured the grant money, she said. Due to his efforts, council decided to rename City Hall after Hamilton following the official reopening of the building Jan. 27, 2007.
Now, just above the City Hall sign, it reads “The Mayor Sammy Hamilton Jr. Building.”
Editor’s note: This is the second of three days of coverage of the effects of Hurricane Wilma striking Southwest Florida five years ago.
Marya Repko, of the Everglades Society of Historic Preservation, isn’t alone in describing the building as “beautiful.”
Now refurbished, Everglades City Hall is occupied by city offices, a one-room Collier County branch library, Collier County tax collector, county clerk, a branch of the Shamrock Bank and a Collier County Sheriff’s Office workstation.
Natural hardwoods of the new floors, staircase and trim stand out in contrast to the white paint throughout much of the interior. Council chambers, including the fine woods of the council’s dais, the podium where the public speaks and new chairs, are among the additions that Brenda Hamilton, the mayor’s wife, noted brought City Hall to a new stature.
“It’s not like that laminate you see in some commission chambers,” she said. “You know this is a historic place.”
For the town’s population of 513, according to 2004 census figures, the renovation wasn’t just about roominess and aesthetics, city leaders said.
The light of day that once was shining through the cracks in the ceiling on the second floor have been repaired, clearly making the building reasonably weatherproof to the naked eye.
Moreover, the building now meets current codes, including storm endurance. Historic windows were replaced so they can withstand severe winds.
The building was brought up to all new building codes from the foundation to the roof, officials said. A pump installed under the building can prevent future flood or water damage, city officials said.
Everglades City Hall is now prepared to weather the next storm, Pines said.
“It’s in excellent shape for another storm,” she said. “The Mayor (Hamilton) has taken care of everything.”