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Jacksonville to revisit debate over relocation of city offices

JACKSONVILLE — Familiar ground will be covered again when a City Council study session looks at possible new locations for public safety and administration buildings today.

The public is invited to the meeting at 7 p.m. in the Naverson Room of the city's library.

Recommendations for relocation of the operations to just two proposed sites presented by combined committees in October didn't sit well with all City Council members. One of the options would have placed administration on the Britt Steps, an area some residents want to preserve. Councilman John Dodero suggested the workshop and said the council should come up with proposals for the session. Debate on where to locate the civic functions goes back a decade.

Both proposed sites are adjacent to public works buildings. The first option would place public safety buildings on city land to the west and a piece of property to be purchased, with administration on Britt Steps to the east. Option two would place all those functions west of public works on two sites. Current fire and police facilities are outdated and crowded. The current fire station is vulnerable to earthquake damage.

Dodero has created his own proposal that includes an option beyond the two recommend by the Public Safety and Lands & Buildings committees. He suggests leaving administration in its current site at 101 E. Main St., to be renovated later. Public safety offices would be placed on city land and one of the private lots west of public works.

A citizens advisory committee gave six options in its January evaluation, including use of the current administration site with the addition of public safety buildings. Locations on North Fifth Street also were included.

"We've been through all this stuff, let's put it on the table," said Dodero, who said he would like to see a site decision reached in January.

"We will have blank sheets where the audience can list their preferences," said Councilman Bruce Garrett, who will moderate the discussion. Garrett declined to reveal his preference prior to the meeting. He has two goals for the session.

"The first is to make sure that community understands there really is a need for the buildings," said Garrett.

Second, Garrett would like to narrow choices for a building site to two options.

Garrett said surveys show residents don't want to see building in the Britt Steps area. A petition drive opposing the steps location in July 2006 gathered 450 signatures.

"I'd peg (opposition) at about 90 percent, but that's subjective," said Garrett.

Dodero also thinks most of the population is against building on the Britt Steps, but Councilman Dick Ames has a different view.

"A small minority of people feel for (preservation of) the Britt Steps," said Ames, who has recommended that location in the past. But his desire to improve conditions for public safety outweigh his championing of the site now, he added.

"Everybody would like to see a decision," said Ames.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland.