Council continues to explore options regarding city hall’s future

Council continues to explore options regarding city hall's future by David Lias Like a coach on the sidelines who has watched his football team fail to score from the red zone, Mayor Roger Kozak is hoping the Vermillion City Council and concerned citizens can come up with a new, winning play.

Kozak would eventually like to score a touchdown � to see city offices housed in better facilities.

"We have not had formal discussion on any plans to go forward in the future," he said near the end of Monday's city council meeting. "I just want to put one out tonight to see if it would make sense to go in that direction."

Kozak noted that voters clearly stated they were not satisfied with the amount of money involved in the city's recent attempt to purchase and renovate the Community First Bank building as a new city hall.

A resolution to purchase the bank for $1.1 million, and allocate up to $1.1 million more to remodel the building, was referred to a public election Nov. 18.

Of the 1,011 citizens who cast ballots, 614 voted against the resolution. The measure received support from 397 voters.

"I don't know how many people you visited with, but I know personally individuals I've spoken to, the concern, in all cases, was not with the building, its condition, its location, its cost," Kozak said. "It was with the renovation dollars. Halfway through this process, we were no longer partnering with the school system because they chose not to move their offices at this time."

An oversimplified approach

Kozak said the city also may have used an "oversimplified" approach in determining renovation costs by simply using an industry standard.

"So we really didn't have adequate documentation for the renovation dollars that were

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cited in the resolution that was passed," he said.

Kozak said he believes there is some consensus in the community for utilizing the Community First Bank building. He suggested Monday that the city use the services of an architect to give the city council and the public a more precise idea of how much renovation of the bank building may cost.

"I also think we should look at a phased-in approach. As you know, as we look at the second penny sales tax, it's stretched almost as far as it can be, as is every fund the city has," Kozak said. "We don't have any huge sum of money sitting somewhere waiting to be spent. Typically, all of our funds have projects identified well into the future.

"But at least if we look at it from the standpoint of a professional designer, and we look at it in phases, we can have a logical proposal on how we would move in and utilize the structure, what the cost would be for each phase, and also we would very much be aware of what is included in each phase," he said.

Kozak wants the public involved in every phase he identified Monday.

"I'm thinking that we should have as many open information sessions as needed whereby the architect would be a participant, and we gather information from anyone and everyone in the community who wishes to share their thoughts and ideas," he said. "After all, one of the biggest users (of city hall) are the citizens of this community."

This process will take time, but Kozak hopes it will eventually lead to another resolution from the city council "for the acquisition of the property in order to to give Community First an opportunity to make their decision for a site in the community.

"We'll also come forward with a resolution on the renovation side that will be supported by factual information that will be much more solid than the square footage industry standard that we were using," Kozak said.

Don't count out city hall

"I think if we're going to engage an architect, they should look at all the information that we have on the current city hall building, and they should have access to all the work that was done on the bank building," Alderman Dan Christopherson said. "They should be able to look at everything and blend that all together and not just get stuck on one building. They should look at everything that we have available without re-inventing the wheel."

Christopherson said he'd also like to know who the architect is going to be and how he or she will be chosen by the city.

"I want to be sure that area and local architects have a chance at this. I'd like to know what that process will be," he said. "I just want to make sure that we have lots of public input on this and that we look at all of the options before we zero in on one building."

Jeanette Stone suggested the city council demonstrate a more open approach and hold a public meeting before hiring an architect.

"You apparently showed us one plan that was made for this building (the present city hall) but I think there were two other plans, two cheaper plans, that we weren't given information on," she said. "I would rather see a more public meeting before you go and spend money on an architect to really see what people want rather than assuming that everyone wants Community First and how we're going to fix it up."

"I don't know how many plans were developed over time," Kozak said. "I do know that every one of the plans were public information, and I believe they were all discussed publicly."

Suggesting a proposal

The mayor emphasized he is suggesting a proposal.

"I didn't say what we are going to do. I simply came forward with what I thought would be one course of action to consider. I appreciate the comments you've made, and certainly the council can take that into consideration when they decide what it is they are going to do. I'm not telling the council what to do. I'm just putting an idea out for their consideration."

"It seems to me Jeanette's idea is a good one ? to hold a public meeting to find out what people want before we hire an architect," Christopherson said, "to find out what the people really want so that we don't start spending money on stuff that they don't want."

"My experience has been with an architectural firm � they are trained to bring out those thoughts and ideas from the public," Kozak said.

The mayor asked Christopherson who he would recommend to lead the process so it's done in a proper fashion.

Christopherson suggested an individual who has led city council retreat sessions.

"I think we're dealing more with emotional issues at the outset than we are with the bricks and mortar of how the thing is going to be done. We need someone who is experienced in people skills for that meeting more so than someone who is experienced in architecture to find out what the feelings of the people really are and to have a consensus building session."

Expertise needed

Alderman Jack Powell noted the importance of utilizing an architect's expertise.

"If there are some conditions in a public building that law requires that certain codes be met, such as rest rooms and things of that nature, it would seem to me that it would make sense that you bring in professionals because that's their job," he said.

Powell said, looking back in hindsight, he wished the city council would have used a three-tiered approach in its efforts to purchase the bank building.

"I'd like to see what would be the minimum we would have to do to make that building (Community First) serviceable, assuming that the school will not be a participant in it," he said.

In a second tier, the city could identify what it felt would be important aspects that should be included in the building.

"Maybe the third tier would be if we had all the money we needed, how would we like to do the building," Powell said. "I think the critical thing would be to be able to go to the public and say, 'The purchase of the building is one issue. To make it functional so that we can use it, we have to do at least this much.'

"I don't know how you go to the public with something like that without the expertise to explain it to us," he said.

City Manager Jim Patrick said a more extensive examination of both the existing city hall and the bank building by architects "takes it out of the realm of emotions into more of a cost estimate as well as some recommendations and proposals."

Alderman Ray Hofman said he agreed with Powell's assessment.

"You really do need to have somebody with some expertise," he said. "We need to identify what's needed, and what we have. I'm thinking we can use some city ability and manpower to get to that minimal stage. We could then look at the bank building and say that's a possibility, as well as looking at this building (city hall) and say this is a possibility.

"But let's try to keep things as low (in cost) as we can for what we need to do to make things meet the American Disabilities Act," Hofman said. "We need that done, and soon."

Draft a plan

Kozak requested Patrick to draft a plan for the city council to consider two weeks from now.

"It would show a sequence of activities to occur," the mayor said, including one or more public meetings. "Also, we would look at what minimally would be required if we were to relocate. Again, what would be the minimal requirement to make the present facility usable, and so on."

By the next meeting, Kozak said, the city council would then have a plan, including a series of steps to follow.

"If we can come to an agreement that that's procedurally the way we want to go, then we can put it back into the lap of the staff, and they implement that plan," he said.

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