No clear cut answer

No clear cut answer by David Lias The Vermillion City Hall Advisory Committee will soon recommend to the Vermillion City Council what it believes is the best option for replacing the community�s aging city hall.

The public was given one last opportunity Tuesday to share its thoughts with the committee. After nearly two hours of discussion, the idea of purchasing and renovating the Bank of West building, located in downtown Vermillion, received slightly more support than the notion of building a new city hall structure on one of three other proposed sites.

Not all citizens were willing to make a commitment at the end of meeting, held in the William J. Radigan Fire Station, in part because the committee was only able to provide estimates of what new construction or renovation of the existing bank building would cost.

The advisory committee was formed in March 2004 after the city�s attempt to purchase the Bank of the West building was referred to a public election and rejected by voters.

Since then, the committee has met 30 times. Tuesday�s meeting was the third public forum it has sponsored. It has conducted community surveys, reviewed previous studies of the existing municipal office building and shared them with the public, hired consultants and conducted public tours of city hall.

Besides the bank facility, the advisory committee is entertaining the idea of building a new city hall at one of three locations: the current city hall site, property where Fullerton Lumber is currently located on Main Street, or property that contains the old National Guard Armory at the corner of Market and Kidder streets.

"The question tonight is which of these sites do you think the city should invest in for its future," said Rich Braunstein, chairman of the advisory committee. "We also request that you ask others in the community to send us their thoughts in the next week."

The committee hopes to receive both written and verbal feedback by Monday, July 25. It plans to make its final decision on Tuesday, July 26, at a 7 p.m. public meeting held in the second floor meeting chamber of city hall.

"After that, we hope to deliver our final recommendation to the city council at their next meeting on Aug. 1," Braunstein said.

Much of the available data at Tuesday night�s meeting, including cost evaluations, was at least two years old.

"What our consultants produced, in the way of cost estimates, based on standard development costs, based on national averages – I feel much of those costs were developed prior to post-Sept. 11, so we don't have the ability to share with you precise costs here," Braunstein said. "We also don't have the ability to share with you the costs of adjacent properties (that would need to be purchased)."

The costs of a new city hall at the three sites requiring demolition would roughly be $3 million. "The bank building, not requiring demolition but renovation, would come in probably $600,000 or $700,000 less than those sites," he said. "I want to make it clear those costs are estimates. It's not this committee�s expertise or responsibility to negotiate anything like final costs."

Committee member Lloyd Rowland said he and his colleagues spent a considerable amount of time determining if the city truly needed a new city hall. "We had the same questions that many people have had who ask 'what's wrong with city hall?' It was after we looked at all of the inadequacies that we said, ?okay, now what do we do?'" he said. "That was when we developed the other sites."

"What the committee found, after looking at all of the documents, after looking at the building, and after meeting with our consultant," said committee member Bob Fuller, "was that our current city hall is just not a very good building. It is just totally inadequate."

Two architectural firms have inspected Vermillion�s city hall and shared their findings with the committee. They compiled a long list of structural shortcomings, ranging from existing walls that seem to be moving to lofted offices constructed of combustible materials with a combustible exit stairway.

"It's not our opinion of why the building is not inadequate," Fuller said. "It's the opinion of two professional architectural firms. Because of this information, this committee decided that we cannot do anything cost-effective with the existing city hall."

"If you want my opinion, I've always felt that the bank is best solution to our problem," Young Moore III told the committee.

David Day, however, expressed misgivings with that option.

"It very well may be that the bank building is aesthetically more pleasing than the other buildings, but the point is, it doesn't look, and never will look like a city hall," he said. "The only way you reach the conclusion that it is aesthetically superior is by bringing into your aesthetic analysis a cost analysis."

John Storm, the head of a local investment group, noted that one more option relating to the Bank of the West building is available to the city.

Last January, the investment group reached an agreement for purchasing the Bank of the West building. The investors' plans included a possible lease or lease-purchase agreement for relocating city hall operations.

Besides Braunstein, Fuller and Rowland, other members of the advisory committee are Larry Brady, Jim Green, Jill LeCates, Neil Melby, Ted Muenster, Nikki Peters, Howard Willson and Dennis Zimmerman.

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