City council wants to pursue two more options for the reuse of the former Simon Kenton Elementary School, including turning the 40,000 square foot vacant school into a justice center.
Last week, council asked its architect to come up with construction costs estimates to:
- Renovate the school to house the police department, Municipal Court, city law offices and probation department
- Demolish the 40-year-old school and construct a new building on the 11-acre site and move police there from their quarters in city hall’s basement.
Assistant City Manager Brent Merriman said it likely will take the architect two to four weeks to work up the estimates.
Council wanted cost alternatives after the architect’s first estimates for a plan to renovate the school for some city offices came in more than $7 million — $3 million more than the city staff’s initial estimates. That plan included moving police out of the basement into the renovated space on city hall’s first floor vacated by moving some administrative offices.
“Maybe it’s time to step back,” council member Joshua Long said last week.”I’m not on-board with moving the administrative offices because of the price.”
The seven-person council has been divided about the project during the past year of discussions. Council member Dale Louderback opposes any renovation, and council member John Caupp has said he prefers constructing a new building at the 11-acre site and bulldozing the school. Long and the other four members have said they were hesitant to bulldoze the school.
“I would not be happy tearing down that building,” Long said.
Initially, the city considered moving police out of their quarters in city hall to a renovated Simon Kenton. That idea was rejected because of the renovation costs tied to police security needs.
“Now I’m wondering if it would be the most cost effective option to have a justice center there,” Long said. He also said he was “open-minded” to Caupp’s suggestion of a new police facility that could be expanded at a later date to include a new fire station and, perhaps, the municipal court.
“We need more solid construction estimates, and we’ll likely ask the architect to expand the scope of the project,” Long said of last week’s discussion.
Caupp has argued renovating the school would be “a money pit” because of the constant need to repair and maintain the building. He said he believes the city could build a suitable 15,000 square foot building to house police for half the cost of the proposed renovation.
Louderback doesn’t want the city to spend any money on renovation, calling it “putting lipstick on a pig.” In addition, he said moving any city offices out of downtown is “a bad, bad idea” at a time when the city is pushing the revitalization of the area.
Council members envisioned using the 11-acre site — donated by the school district to the city — as a community campus.
“It (the school) could be used along with the land as a community space,” Long said. “But we have to understand what it will cost us.”
Any renovation would require selling bonds. The debt service would come from the capital improvement fund that was funded by an additional 0.5 percent income tax increase approved by the voters in 2010. From that increase, the city has brought back laid off police and firefighters, increased its street maintenance and restarted upkeep of its parks.
The council has said any bond payments would not affect those initiatives.
“None of us are looking at a levy to fund this,” Long said of the Simon Kenton project.