Public input key to city hall decision

Public input key to city hall decision by David Lias The Vermillion City Council decided Monday to open up discussions once more on the city hall issue.

A motion to revisit the issue received unanimous support, mainly because it calls for seeking public input.

City Manager Jim Patrick prepared a proposed timeline the aldermen could follow in making future decisions on the city hall issue.

"The main reason I will support the motion is because the first thing on the list is a public forum to receive public input," Alderman Dan Christopherson said. "I think we need that. We need lots of that � not just one time but lots of times."

In a Nov. 18 city election, Vermillion voters put a stop to the council's plans to purchase the Community First National Bank building and remodel it to use as a new city hall.

The proposal presented to the council Monday calls for a public forum on Jan. 12, followed by a council decision Jan. 19 on the overall scope of services needed of an architect. There would also be a decision made at the time of the number of public forums desired during the process.

The remainder of the timeline contains items to be scheduled in the future. Those items include:


* Sending a request for a proposal to interested architectural firms and scheduling interviews and sharing a statement of work.


* Receiving evaluations and selecting a firm. Recommend the selection to the city council for approval.


* With the architect, develop a preliminary facility statement followed by a public forum and city staff meetings, general programmatic needs, analysis of constituents to be served, insuring the compliance of all federal and state codes, and analysis of a needs assessment.


* Council approval of a preliminary facility statement.


* With the architect, develop

a facilities program plan that includes programmatic justification for discrete spaces, gross square footage, site analysis, illustrative floor plans, initial cost estimates and budget for ongoing operational cost.


* Council approval of facilities plan.


* Development by the architect of a facilities design plan. This will include architectural, mechanical and electrical schematic designs, total construction cost estimates.


* Council approval of the facilities design plan.


* Facility bid document to include plans and specifications.


* Construction.

"Someplace in here that's not listed, of course is the need to settle on a building to get to the facilities program plan and the facilities plan itself," Patrick said. "I would submit to council that would take place sometime after the facilities statement once we decide what the needs are both from public input and from staff input."

Building alternatives would be reviewed at that time, he said, at the direction of the city council.

"Someplace between a preliminary facilities statement and program plan, we'll need to make a decision on a course of action as far as a facility," Patrick said.

Alderman Kevin Annis suggested a stronger effort in the beginning of the process by the council to gather public input.

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"We're going to have to go to people and find out," he said, "because we just don't get the turnout at meetings. We have to figure out a better way to get the feelings of the people out there, I think, and I think it should take a lot longer up front � maybe a month or two."

"One public meeting isn't going to do it," Christopherson said. "We've got to have other methods to get feedback from the public and find out what they'll accept and what they won't accept before we start engaging an architect."

"I don't disagree with what's being said," Mayor Roger Kozak said, "but I think we have to say more than 'lots more.' I think we have to give direction to the city manager on how we want that done."

Annis suggested to attempt smaller-scale meetings throughout the city.

"Maybe in areas of the city, we could get together and meet by wards, and make it more accessible," he said. "People would be more willing to come if there was just 30 or 40 people in a neighborhood."

"What I'm hearing here is we do want to encourage public input, and for starters, Jim has suggested that we, perhaps, have a city-wide open forum," Kozak said. "But out of that, we may determine that we need to go�down to the ward level and at that point we may need some semblance of a survey at that point.

"I think we need that first public forum to try to get the process at least pointed in a certain direction," he said. "I think from that point on, that will start to shape the remainder of the steps and the procedures that need to be followed."

Christopherson suggested the timeline be changed to eliminate any discussion of the need of an architect until later in the process, after several public meetings had been held.

"At some point we need an architect to sit down and look at where we want to go and what we want to do," Patrick said. "Are we going to have 11 options, two options or whatever? We're not saying to hire an architect at that point, what we're saying is what is it that you want and how do you want to structure this thing?"

"I just disagree with that," Christopherson said. "I think that anything in reference to an architect ought to be farther down in the process so that at least in the first two meetings, we're deciding how many more we need."

"I agree with the city manager that you have to have something to present to the public other than just having a a fireside chat," Alderman Jack Powell said. "I think you need to talk about what the scope of services that are needed of an architect.

"This is not picking an architect, this is simply saying what is it we need when we talk with the public," he said. "What kind of services are we going to be looking at that's going to require a professional to help us interpret?"

Annis noted that the council and much of the citizenry is familiar with the issues from all of the information that was gathered and presented leading up to last month's election.

"From the people I've talked to, there was a lot of people that signed the petition that maybe said 'we don't need to do anything,' but I've run into an awful lot who've said, 'City hall would be great over there (Community First) but I just couldn't go with it because of the numbers.

"You say that everyone is against it because of the vote, and you're picking on Roger because he said that people have told him that," Annis added, referring to comments made earlier by audience members Lynette Melby and Jeanette Stone. "I know people have told me that, too, so I'm not too sure that just because they voted against that proposal that they are against moving to Community First. I just want to go out and talk to people and get some kind of firm ideas."

The city could simply choose to do nothing, he said.

"Should we just stay here and not have any advances in public services?" he said. "I just can't believe that's what people want. I think they want us to put a nice foot forward for the city and be in a nice, adequate building that's not a Taj Mahal by any means."

The Community First Bank building, he noted, is only 20 years old and offers good square footage for the city's needs.

"We just need to find out what people can live with and what they can't," Annis said.

The council agreed to amend the proposed action scheduled for Jan. 19. On that date, the council will decide on the overall scope of services needed to continue the process, deleting the need for an architect at that time.

The council also agreed to decide on the number of public forums and the types of other input needed needed to learn citizens' feelings on the issue.

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