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Tidings file photoAshland City Hall on the downtown Plaza.

Council defers study on City Hall options

Should the City Council spend $97,000 for architectural concepts and designs for a safe, “new” City Hall, evaluating three sites — the aging and seismically vulnerable building on the Plaza, new facilities at the Civic Center on East Main Street, or the newly acquired Briscoe School building, itself needing extensive renovation?

The council Tuesday wrestled with that issue, debated whether to trim costs by eliminating one or even two options, but questioning if they had enough reliable data to rule out Briscoe (as several want to do). Also on the table is integrating the modern Community Development Building (or sale of same) on Winburn Way into some new City Hall scenario.

They finally put the question off, inviting the public to have their say at a July 3 hearing of the Council.

Councilor Dennis Slattery summarized the panel’s frustrations, noting, “I struggle with this. Sometimes it feels it has an energy of its own, pushing you down the road. I’m not totally comfortable with where this started and where it’s going. We just wanted to have a council conversation, which started as a building needing a new roof for $100,000, then got to $10 million. It’s a dilemma.”

Public Works Director Paula Brown responded, “It may have started with a new roof, but when you peel it back, City Hall has significant seismic problems. It doesn’t function properly and to keep it in the same state, crammed (but retrofitted) it would still be several million dollars If you want to drop one option (on a design study by ORW Architecture in Medford), it would make the job easier.”

Councilor Mike Morris said it’s difficult to judge Briscoe, as it’s a new acquisition and a space needs analysis hasn’t been done — in addition, “$97,000 is quite a bit for conceptual drawings.”

Brown said the council could, if it wanted, drop Briscoe from the study, adding, “We’re on borrowed time. I understand City Hall has not fallen down yet, but the Fire Marshal and Fire Chief would probably say ‘don’t let staff stay in that building.’ It’s very old.”

Brown said a seismic retrofit on the old City Hall is a must-do, as “it’s so old you have to destroy it to fix it and it won’t cost much to give you that (dollar) number. It’s not appropriate to do nothing and the ORW contract would allow you to (move ahead).”

Councilor Rich Rosenthal echoed the thought, “City Hall is a death trap. Every time I go in there, I pray there’s no earthquake.” An analysis of Briscoe is needed for an informed decision, he said.

Mayor John Stromberg agreed that City Hall, where he has his office, is now “way too dangerous.” He favored dropping Briscoe, saying it’s too old and it would be too expensive to re-do to accommodate present needs. Morris agreed.

Brown said Briscoe would likely be the most expensive option — and that she would ask ORW how much the contract would be cut without Briscoe.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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