Citizens challenge need, prices of council's plans City hall
* Built in 1915; fire station additions built in 1970 and 1981; office addition constructed in 1977. Estimated remodeling costs: $2.57 million.
by David Lias Many people who attended the Oct. 6 gathering of the Vermillion City Council couldn't help but notice the sense of uncomfortable irony that settled in the meeting chambers for a time that evening.
Vermillion attorney Casey Davidson arrived at Vermillion City Hall earlier that night to represent Paul Hasse.
Hasse, a local citizen who is leading a campaign opposing the city's purchase and remodeling of the Community First National Bank building, had another bone to pick with the city council, involving variances and the issuance of a building permit that he opposed.
Davidson stated Hasse's case from his wheelchair. The local lawyer had to be carried up city hall's stairway by two men to gain access to the city council meeting chambers.
Those same men helped him negotiate his way back down the staircase following the meeting.
The lack of elevators and city hall's non-compliance in other areas concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act are just a couple of the reasons city leaders cite for pursuing the relocation of city offices in to the fully-accessible Community First bank building.
It's an argument that Hasse easily brushes aside.
"I've helped haul people up those stairs in a wheelchair," he said. "The point is, all of those offices in city hall could be on the first floor by utilizing the space that's been freed up.
"You can't justify an elevator in that building," he said. "If you put all of the city offices on the first floor, you don't need an elevator. And right now, there's a handicapped entrance on the south side. So their squawk about ADA is really overblown. Nobody's pushing them. No lawsuits have been filed."
The city should work toward the goal of meeting ADA requirements, Hasse said, by moving all of the offices to the first floor.
"When the talk first started about a new fire station, there was a need for that, because the other place was so cramped," Hasse said. "They said we'll get all of the fire trucks out of here (city hall) and we'll have room for expansion if necessary. So there's a few thousand square feet in that old ambulance and fire hall on the ground floor that's available for office space, and they haven't considered that."
A break room and wheel-chair accessible offices could be constructed in that space, he contends.
"To go out and look at another building, and take it off the tax rolls makes it tough on the other property taxpayers," Hasse said, referring to the council's plans to purchase and remodel the bank building. "Plus they didn't have it appraised.
"Some of the other people in town didn't think it was right, either, and they said 'let's bring it to a vote of the people,' and that's why I got interested in it," Hasse said. "We got the required signatures, and there are about seven people on our committee. We've met a couple times and agreed to get the facts out and let people know what they're voting on."
Alderman Dan Christopherson knows he's in the minority on the bank purchase issue. He cast the lone dissenting vote in September when the Vermillion City Council approved the resolution calling for purchasing the bank building for $1.1 million, and setting aside up to $1.1 million for remodeling.
"My feeling is that it is a blatant waste of taxpayers' dollars to even think about spending $1.1 million to renovate or remodel a perfectly good building," he said. "It's perfectly functional the way it is."
Christopherson agrees that some interior changes would need to be made to the building, such as constructing some office space and rest rooms, to transform it from a bank into a city hall.
"But nothing that would approach $1.1 million," he said. "Now they are talking about $863,000 if the school district doesn't locate there, and I still think that's ridiculous."
"If one of our critical utilities or services needed the space, like the fire department or the police station, I don't think you would have seen this kind of opposition," Hasse said. "But what the city wants to do now, I feel, can't be justified."
Hasse said citizens may not have been fully aware that the Vermillion School District had originally planned to locate administrative offices in the same building.
"How much more was it going to cost the school district to be in there, because they decided not to after the opt-out failed?" he said.
Hasse said his strongest feelings of opposition to the city's plans are stirred by a lack of need that would justify the bank purchase, proposed remodeling costs that he terms outrageous, and a lack of an appraisal of the bank building by the city.
"The bank had an appraisal. That's for their side. But how do you know the taxpayers are getting their money's worth?" he said.
If Christopherson had his druthers, he, like Hasse, would first pursue a remodeling of the present city hall building.
The alderman noted, however, that he could support the idea of purchasing the bank building � minus wording in the resolution setting aside such a high sum of money for remodeling.
"I was voted down on remodeling the present city hall, and I'm not going to re-visit that issue," Christopherson said, "so the next best choice in the options that we looked at, I believe, is the Community First building.
"The reason I like that choice is it's fairly reasonable in price, compared to new construction and land acquisition, and I felt we could move in without hardly doing anything to it," he said. "It's a perfectly good building the way it is. I'm in favor of the building but not the remodeling part of it."