Reflections on spilled milk

Now that we have a huge hole in the ground where the new city hall will be — someday — we can thank the city council of 2006 and the previous mayor for our predicament.

Way back then, a perfectly good building, with three floors and lots of room (42,000 square feet), fully wired for the Internet, and a full-sized parking lot (already installed) became available. The 7th Avenue building that used to house the Navy Facilities Engineering Command’s local office could have been purchased for, as I recall, approximately $9 million. With an investment of another couple of million for interior modifications we could have a very functional, comfortable city hall for around $11 or $12 million and it would have been fully operational today. But wait.

The building didn’t have a view, and the downtown citizens said “We want it downtown.” Some of the city council members (some of whom are still on council) couldn’t bear the thought of moving into an existing building, so they put it up for a citizen vote. The choice was uptown (10th Avenue) for a new construction cost of about $16 million, or downtown, for an unknown price.

The option to move into an existing building was not offered because somebody had made a decision that the “new” city hall would be new construction. Practicality? Cost effectiveness? Utility? Leadership? No matter. Well, the downtowners won, without even a glimmer of how much it would cost.

So here we are, after several “downtown” site considerations, two years later, our city employees are still working in unsatisfactory conditions, and we now have a huge hole in the ground with construction “paused” (per the Nov. 8 edition of The Herald) until we can figure out how to pay for the “estimated” $17 million cost. No firm number is available yet. The design sketch in the Nov. 8 issue of The Herald looks nice enough by itself but it doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood, will block the views uphill residences, and parking and traffic flow, well ... .

Now it is suggested that we spend another $20,000 to $40,000 for another feasibility study to see if we could fit the police department in there, too?

That 42,000 square feet in the 7th Avenue building would have been more than adequate for city employees and the police department, too.

I am encouraged that the current mayor and the new city council members may bring pragmatism back in style and figure out a way out of the mess we voted outselves into.

But there is no sense crying over spilled milk. Perhaps we could fill up the hole with fish until construction begins. Then we could invite tourists to experience the joy of lake fishing in an old time Norwegian fishing village ... of course they’d have to walk to the new fishing hole.

D. Rand Hillier


Editor’s note: The sketch of city hall in the Nov. 8 issue of The Herald was based on an earlier rendition of city hall, created before the downtown site was chosen.

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