City Hall is falling down.
After bringing this topic to the council’s attention on multiple occasions I shared the thoughts below with them at tonight’s meeting on April 21st. I also wanted to share these thoughts with the wider community as I add my voice to the ongoing discussion happening throughout our town.
A few caveats: I don’t have this all figured out, I don’t have a specific option that I prefer for how to remedy the situation, and I believe we should make this decision slowly. I also strongly believe in wise preparations and think we should begin setting aside funds from future budgets so that we live within our means just like any wise family in our community. Many people have different priorities and issues they think we should confront as a community. This is simply the problem I saw looming ahead of us and feel compelled to address. And one last qualification: many people and businesses have been economically harmed by our state government this last year – it’s my strong conviction that while we must prepare for the future we cannot ask too much of our community today. Slow and steady progress must be our goal.
As we discuss the building we’re currently using for City Hall I hope to use a four-step process in our consideration of this topic.
1. Where are we today?
2. Where do we want to be?
3. How do we get there?
4. How do we stay on track?
I’ll share my answers to these questions as far as I’ve developed them and hope you share your thoughts with each other and the council.
Where are we today?
1. We are a growing city with a primary office building falling down in the middle of town. We have large parts of the building not being used. Our city employees need a safe place to work and our citizens need an accessible place to meet with their leaders and take care of basic administrative needs. Paying the water bill without having a brick fall on your head seems to be a reasonable expectation.
We are also the caretakers of a historic building with significant community value, but the city’s staff and seat of government have been located elsewhere in the past. Appreciating our past and securing our future means recognition of the issues at hand.
Where do we want to be?
2. Twenty years from now we need Deer Park’s citizens and city staff to be working together in a functional and attractive location that is central to the city and provides for future growth. Our current building has served Deer Park for over 100 years but hasn’t aged well and seems unlikely to be around in 20 years unless significant work is done. Our future building, whether new or refurbished, should be built to stand the test of time.
How do we get there?
3. I see three options available to the city council today, but only two that actually move us towards our long-term goal. First, we can do nothing. It’s the cheaper-in-the-short-term option, is safer politically, and leaves the work to future councils. If we were reviewing this situation 50 years from now this is unlikely to have been the best option, but it may be appealing for now. The two options that we should begin exploring are remodeling our current building OR building a building to use for the next century. If you know of another option besides doing nothing, refurbishing, or rebuilding then please be ready to share your thoughts.
So that we have an action step to take together this year, I will be proposing to the council that we set aside $100,000 to contract with a design firm to explore our three options of doing nothing, refurbishing, and rebuilding. We need an accurate picture of what is involved in each possibility before taking a step down any particular course. This Request For Proposal is the same process Councilmember Dee Cragun used several years ago to prepare the supporting documents to go grant shopping for a possible splash pad in Swinyard Park. It’s the necessary first step towards a responsible pursuit of any of the three known options.
How do we stay on track?
4. Staying on track involves intentionally planning resources to meet the needs of each step. I plan to help this project continue moving forward to an agreement on which option should be pursued. We’ll also need a group of citizens to join this effort if we pursue either of the pro-active solutions so please be considering who would share their time and energy to accomplish a small, but important, task.
Citizens, please help me by addressing this two-part question: Do you see any other options besides doing nothing, refurbishing, or rebuilding, and, which option do you initially think we should pursue? You can talk with any city council member to share your thoughts.
Years ago the bones of city hall were judged to be acceptable, but recommendations were made AND THEN NOT followed through on so the needed repairs never happened. Today we have bricks falling off the roof, a third floor that’s unusable, a basement with foundation issues, and bricks that are softening due to age. Let’s be the ones to make great long-term decisions as we steward the city’s resources.