City staff has proposed a fifth alternative for the reuse of a former elementary school that would provide more space for city offices and keep those offices downtown at a cost that would not sacrifice future city projects.
For more than three years, city council and staff have been wrestling with the need for more space, patrticularly for the police department housed in the basement of City Hall. The initial discussion was to use the former Simon Kenton Elementary School — given to the city by the school district after completion of a district-wide construction project — for city offices. Costs, the useability of the building and concerns about moving city services out of downtown sent the council looking for other alternatives.
The latest alternative “improves some of the space needs, but not all, and it keeps the administrative offices downtown,” Chris Berger, public service director/city engineer, told council Thursday in presenting the latest alternative.
The new alternative would construct a new building near the intersection of East Main and Whiteman streets downtown for city administrative offices. Moving those offices from City Hall would free up needed space for Municipal Court, police, probation and law departments. The fate of Simon Kenton would be put on hold for one year. During that year, the city would gauge the interest of private investors in purchasing the property.
The alternative came from a realization by staff that it could not meet all the pressing space needs without sacrificing a number of future capital projects to remain fiscally responsible, Berger said.
Total cost would be slightly less than $6.5 million, costing city capital and key operating funds about $397,000 annually, according to Mark Bazelak, city finance director.
The other alternatives are:
- Moving police, court and law department to the 40,000-square-foot renovated school building and renovating City Hall for more administrative space. The estimated cost is $8.6 million at a cost of $611,000 annually to the capital improvement fund and operating funds.
- Moving city administrative offices to the renovated school and renovating City Hall to expand space for police, court and law. The estimated cost is $7.4 million with about $524,000 in annual costs to the capital and operating funds.
- Demolish Simon Kenton and construct a new police facility on the site, renovating City Hall for additional court and administrative use. The estimated cost is about $5.6 million with annual cost of $340,000 to the city funds.
- Do needed renovations to City Hall to meet building code. That would cost $3 million to the capital fund. No operating funds would be involved.
Voters in 2010 approved a 1/2 percent increase in the city’s income tax. The increase raises an additional $1.3 million annually. Half of the increase went to rehiring police and firefighters laid off because of a budget crisis triggered by the recession. The remaining half was dedicated to capital improvements, including bolstering the upkeep of city streets, renovating and maintaining Shawnee Park and other capital projects as the need arose.
“If I understand this alternative, it will cost us $6.5 million and not raise taxes, not raise water and sewer rates, keep city offices downtown and provide an additional 8,000 square feet to the Police Department?” council member Joshua Long asked Bazelak. “That is correct,” Bazelak said.
Council member Dale Louderback reiterated his position: “I’ve been against any project. I’d like to see the voters decide. … The citizens don’t want us to spend any money. … My position has always been to tear it (Simon Kenton) down.”
Bazelak said council could decide to put a bond issue on the ballot, but said the money for the project already was approved by the voters when they passed the income tax increase.
“We have kept the promises we made on the income tax,” Michael Engle, council president, said. “It is the council’s responsibility to give direction as to where that money goes.”