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The road to city hall?

POULSBO — As Little Norway’s city officials prepare to mark the centennial of self-governance in 2008, much has been accomplished during the past century. But there’s one thing no mayor or city council has done: construct a city hall building.

But this is all set to change, and according to city officials its not a moment too soon.

The existing city hall on Jensen Way is a World War II-era relic funded by the federal government. Its main purpose was a fire station, not a civic building.

Despite decades of use and years of grousing, the latest round of city hall proposals isn’t the first attempt local leaders have made at building a place of their own.

It hasn’t been cheap.

So far, $3.1 million has been spent in the quest with $2.8 million used to purchase two pieces of property, which were deemed unsuitable for a city hall either by environmental constraints or shifts in political winds.

In 2000, then-Mayor Donna Jean Bruce and the city council purchased the Morris property at the intersection of Iverson Street and 7th Avenue for $600,000 with the goal of finally building a new city hall.

But since the south fork of Dogfish Creek bisects the property, the idea was scrapped after a $76,000 analysis of the property, and city officials were forced to regroup and seek a more feasible location.

Five years later, city officials followed then-Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln’s lead and unveiled a new location on 10th Avenue next to Olympic Property Group’s headquarters.

The July announcement sparked a vigorous debate about other sites including the EDS building in Poulsbo Village and questions about why city hall was being moved out of downtown. It also coincidentally happened to be an election year, with Bruce and then-Councilwoman Kathryn Quade squaring off in the November general election.

Days after winning the election, Quade, along with Councilwoman Connie Lord, voted against the $2.1 million purchase of the 10th Avenue property, the selection of BLRB Architects of Tacoma and the issuance of $5.1 million in non-voted general obligation bonds to pay for the $12.1 million city hall building.

Ironically, Quade would be the one to sign the final purchase and sale agreement for 10th in June 2006 in a ceremony that lacked all of the fanfare of a November 2005 celebration, which marked what was at that time believed to be the end of the city hall saga. Two days before Thanksgiving 2005 Bruce, Lincoln and Lien were joined by councilmen Ed Stern, Jim Henry and Mike Regis as they raised toasts to commemorate the occasion.

Between Thanksgiving 2005 and summer 2006, the city hall debate boiled over as city officials were lambasted with searing criticism over the 10th Avenue decision.

In March 2006, a blue ribbon committee was formed to review three city hall alternatives: 10th Avenue, the Creekside Center on 7th Avenue and a downtown alternative.

The discussion reached its climax at an April 19 town hall meeting, which drew more than 200 people, but resulted in the council reaffirming its November 2005 decision. Exactly one week later that decision was reversed, and, on May 10, 2006 council opted to put the 10th Avenue site and a downtown alternative to a public vote.

Downtown was favored by a 3-to-2 margin in the Nov. 7, 2006 election, and the majority of the council affirmed that decision at the Nov. 8, 2006 council meeting, bring the project to its current state.

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