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Citizens can take a look at Poulsbo’s contested city hall

POULSBO — Two Poulsbo council members are advocating a change of plans for the city’s new civic structure, and one of the them is urging citizens to have a look for themselves.

Details on the new city hall will be ripe for studying tonight, as the city hosts an open house from 5-7 p.m. at the current city hall.

The financial market has put the bonding process on hold until interest rates decrease, after which the city will go out for a $9.5 million debt, but the design process itself is nearing finalization. Five of the council’s seven members have given the go-ahead to the building’s scope and size, which includes 30,000 square feet and four stories at the corner of Moe Street and Third Avenue. The building is meant to last the city the next five decades.

Despite the confidence of the coordinating project team, council members Becky Erickson and Linda Berry-Maraist are looking to lessen the building’s monetary impact, and have vocalized concern at its cost and size. After recommending the structure be built on a temporarily smaller scale and receiving no backing from the council, both say they’re now focusing on filling or leasing out the building’s allocated growth space, and Berry-Maraist said she hopes citizens attend tonight to take a look at planning for themselves.

Naming the price

“Our economy is experiencing the worst downturn since the Depression, I think we should be tightening our belts and being as cautious as possible. I do not think proceeding with a $17 million building that is sized for a population that is many decades away is financially prudent,” Berry-Maraist said in an e-mail late last week. She expressed the same concern at the council’s recent four-hour workshop, which was conducted solely to address the project.

An architect, she said, she worries the cost of the building could lead to layoffs of city staff, and would rather build to the city’s current needs now, for a smaller price, and add on in the future. Others on the council argued relegating construction to two phases could cost more in the long run.

“Every project has risks, but this is a huge expenditure for a city our size and very rocky times. Even the world’s top economists don’t know what’s around the bend and none of us have 20:20 foresight,” she said. “Our country could be on the edge of a protracted economic downturn and Poulsbo is not immune to the economic forces that are affecting the world economy, neighboring jurisdictions or our local businesses.”

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Berry-Maraist referenced Lacey’s city hall, designed by Lewis Architects, which is also Poulsbo’s hired firm. Lacey built a 30,000 square foot city hall, as Poulsbo plans to, but is home to more than 31,000 people. Less than 8,000 currently live within Poulsbo’s city limits.

She also pointed to Bainbridge Island’s 24,000-square-foot structure, which serves its population of more than 20,000. Berry-Maraist has noted her concerns to the council since February.

“My suggestions have not reduced the size of this building by one square foot or the costs by $1,” she said.

Erickson stepped down from the project’s coordinating team as a result of the decision to stick with the current plan.

“I resigned in protest from the project team because I could not support the conclusions or directions that were being presented. I have grave concerns about the cost and size of the building,” she said. However, she added, “I will continue to involve myself with the city hall project because at the end of the day, I have a level of fiduciary responsibility to help ensure the well-being of Poulsbo.”

She calculated the building will cost more than $2,000 per taxpayer.

Now, both say they’ll focus their efforts on filling the building’s extra space. Erickson said the idea of an urban campus could help to create better management of city employees and consolidate services. Leasing areas earmarked for future growth could help to offset costs, and is an option Berry-Maraist believes will be more acceptable to the full council. Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade said leasing is a notion she is currently exploring.

It’s no ordinary office space

Council Member Dale Rudolph, who during the workshop reminded the group that it’s a city hall and not an office building being constructed, outlined the specific differences between the two. While a standard office operation mainly requires work stations, some storage and conference rooms, a city hall demands spaces where people can accumulate, as well as service counters, room enough for customers to form lines, and a council chamber and court room, he said. The center also must boast enough conference rooms, a readily available archive area and the capacity for employees to put together and distribute citywide mailers or public notices.

City planning director Barry Berezowsky said the current building plans have been approved by not one, but two architecture firms — BLRB, the city’s hired firm to design city hall for 10th Avenue before that plan was nixed by voters in 2006, first detailed programming schematics; Lewis Architects then adapted that work for current plans. During the workshop Berezowsky urged the council to move forward.

“You think it’s frustrating for you folks? It’s really frustrating for staff,” he said.

Quade said the structure is a much needed amenity for city staff.

“These people do heroic deeds in very inadequate spaces,” she said. “I would hope that in the interest of being able to give good service to our customers, we wouldn’t shortchange our staff.”

She also said she hopes the council, unified in its understanding that the building is needed, can continue its teamwork.

“There’s a lot of positive energy going into this,” she said.

Council Member Ed Stern, who warned the markets may put the skids on the project for a year or longer, lauded the group’s exploration of the various options.

“Shame on us if we weren’t doing this exercise tonight,” he said at the workshop.

Later, longtime Poulsbo Council Member Jeff McGinty, who was quiet for most of the evening, expressed his opinion succinctly — and with a twist of humor.

“When are you ready to have kids?” he asked. “We’ve just, we’ve got to do it.”

The City Hall Project Team released a statement after the workshop detailing the reasoning behind the project’s scope, size and finances. To read it, visit www.cityofpoulsbo.com.

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