ZEPHYRHILLS — Now that the city owns the century-old home of the man credited with bringing Zephyrhills to life, city leaders are grappling with what to do with it.
Council members, department heads, community leaders and a few citizens gathered Monday at the Jeffries home on Fifth Avenue to take a look around and discuss options.
"The first thing we need to do is stop the bleeding," said council member Ken Burgess, referring to fixing the roof and tenting for termites. "We're not renovating the White House here, but we do need to bring it up to safety codes."
Contractor Bill Back, who did extensive restoration work on the home in the early 1990s, said the metal roof that went on in 1993 should have a life span of 40 to 50 years. It doesn't need to be replaced, said city building official Bill Burgess, it just needs a few repairs.
The city recently paid $111,000 for the house and a separate two-story, wooden carriage house behind it; Burgess estimated the cost of improvements at roughly $42,000 at the time of the March vote.
Council President Charlie Proctor, who voted against the purchase, expressed concern Monday that the cost may be higher than previously expected. He raised the possibility of saving money by using materials that do not meet the standards of the National Register of Historic Places — for instance, using pressure-treated wood for the wraparound porch, a no-no with historic inspectors. The dilapidated porch has been replaced three times in the last 20 years, Proctor noted.
"Do we want to keep it on the national register?" asked Proctor. "Or could we save money by taking it off?"
Not meeting historic preservation codes would likely cut the city off from some grants and other funding sources, said city planner Todd Vande Berg.
The house was built in 1911 by Civil War veteran Capt. Howard B. Jeffries, two years after he moved to the area from New York to establish a veteran's retirement colony that eventually became the city of Zephyrhills. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. It was bank-owned for several years before the city stepped in to buy it, spending nearly a year considering former Mayor Danny Burgess' request to save the city's most historic structure from further disrepair.
No budget has been set for repairing or improving the house, nor has the council decided what to do with it once it is in usable condition. Suggestions include renting it out as office space or bringing in nonprofits in need of space. Partnering with the garden club and historic preservation committee are other options; Bill Burgess also suggested local contractors may be willing to do volunteer labor on the home. One man asked the council to consider using the carriage house as a place to offer services to the homeless.
Interim City Manager Steve Spina told the council he will work with city staff to present a plan at a future council meeting that lays out the pros and cons for staying on the historic registry; what repairs need immediate attention and the cost; possible funding sources for improvements; and options for what to do with the house once it is in working order.