City Hall has overlooked the downtown Plaza since 1891, but it may soon be moving. The preliminary designs of three new locations were presented at City Council's Monday meeting.
Some citizens questioned the need for such large expansions at each location and the accompanying high cost.
George Kramer, restoration consultant, was on the City Hall Ad Hoc Committee and said the best approach for the city is minimalistic.
Councilors Dennis Slattery, Julie Akins and Stephen Jensen agreed that a minimalistic approach is best.
"We were given some Cadillac choices, but maybe we should look at the Buick," Kramer said in an interview. "The dream of a new City Hall has come crashing into fiscal responsibility."
City Project Manager Kaylea Kathol said the current City Hall building needs many improvements and isn’t suitable for current staff, let alone future staff years from now.
Last summer, the council approved ORW Architecture to complete conceptual designs and cost findings for the renovation or relocation of City Hall within three sites. Officials have discussed the improvement of the building for 20 years, and in 1994 a seismic evaluation showed that the building would not stand an earthquake.
The first concept is to rebuild City Hall at its current site at 20 E. Main St. and expand it to the largest possible dimensions — four stories and 15,500 square feet — to house existing departments and allow for future growth. This is estimated to cost $12.3 million, or $781 per square foot, in 2019 dollars and is estimated to take 16 months to complete.
Based on an inflation rate of 5.5 percent yearly, the price could rise to $16.1 million by 2024, according to Dana Crawford, principal architect and project manager.
The fourth story is proposed to be composed mostly of glass and will recede in slightly from the rest of the building. Solar panels would adorn the top and the entrance would move to face the Plaza as opposed to its current location facing East Main Street.
“It shows a material palette that is harmonious with the downtown area,” Crawford said. “It is of its time, so it blends some modern features with historic features.”
The second option is to upgrade the recently purchased Briscoe School property at 265 E. Main St. and combine City Hall, all departments in the Community Development building and potentially include Council Chambers and the Municipal Court. This would cost $15.3 million at $477 per square foot in 2019 dollars and is estimated to take 13 months to complete. It’s estimated at $20 million in 2024 dollars.
This renovation would result in 32,000 square feet of space and allow for a decent amount of future growth. Assuming the Community Development departments move into the new City Hall building, the current community development building would sell and offset the cost at an estimated price of $2.5 million.
Crawford said it would require a lot of work to renovate Briscoe and to create a public gathering space. It would also need a zoning change, but it is the best suited to house a bulk of the city departments within one building.
“It really is well suited,” Crawford said. “For the areas available and the areas needed for each department, it would work out very well.”
Councilor Tonya Graham was concerned with what type of business, if any, would find the location and size of the community development building worth purchasing for that price.
The third option is to renovate the Civic Center at 1175 E. Main St. to include the current Council Chambers and Municipal Courts, as well as departments of City Hall and the Community Development Building. This project is estimated at $18.9 million — $591 per square foot in 2019 dollars — and is estimated to take 17 months to complete. The cost is projected at $24.7 million in 2024.
The design for this building would comprise 32,000 square feet and includes using less expensive materials to construct largely glass sides facing East Main Street to provide transparency to the public.
Crawford said this site has the largest flexible footprint of the three.
Former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw asked the council to consider the retrofit to the current site. She was a member of the ad hoc committee and that was its final recommendation to the council. She said the City Hall has a history on the Plaza, and that the Briscoe property is an excellent opportunity to build much needed affordable housing within walking distance to downtown.
“Once a downtown begins to fail, there’s no amount of money that can bring it back,” Shaw said.
Kramer said the ad hoc committee process was more constrained than the committee would have liked.
He said members were given a list of about eight examples of where City Hall may be relocated and weren’t allowed to discuss the retrofit of the current site. He said about 80 percent of the committee recommended the retrofit as a solution to the Council.
He said a portion of City Hall is used for the billing department, but he doesn’t understand why that needs to be located downtown and can’t be moved to the Civic Center or somewhere similar to free up space at the current site.
“If there’s only one building standing on the Plaza, let’s retrofit the Black Sheep because I’m going to need a beer,” Kramer joked. “I don’t care if bills get paid in a timely manner if a natural disaster occurs.”
Kramer said the situation reminds him of the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” because he said the improvements began with a roof leak about three years ago and has morphed into a multi-million-dollar project.
City Attorney Dave Lohman said the city could be sued if someone were injured in the building in a natural disaster, so it is a reason to improve it.
Akins said if she had her way, she wouldn’t choose any of these three options. She also clarified with the council that the decision doesn’t have to be from these three choices alone.
City Project Manager Kaylea Kathol said the initial $6 million estimate the ad hoc committee came up with to replace City Hall in the downtown location was a rough estimate for construction costs alone, but there are many other costs plus the rate of inflation to consider.
This informational presentation was intended for a study session at which councilors may not deliberate. Councilor Rich Rosenthal was out of town and requested the presentation at a regular meeting. No decision was made.
The discussion will continue to another study session where staff will present a seismic retrofit of City Hall and what that would take.
If the council is ready, it could decide an alternative to pursue on Tuesday, March 19.
To send input on the new City Hall structure, contact the City Council at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “City Hall.”