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Move forward with City Hall plan

The Ashland City Council has one more chance to approve a proposed bond measure to finance a new City Hall in time to place the request on the May ballot. That’s not unreasonable, considering public concerns about the project, but the council should not miss the opportunity to move the proposal forward, because construction costs will only continue to increase if the matter is delayed until November.

As originally proposed, the levy request would include $7.2 million to demolish the old City Hall and build a new one in its place, rebuild the shuttered Pioneer Hall and Community Center at a total cost of $1 million, install three solar power systems at the Service Center on North Mountain Avenue for $2.1 million and repair the Perozzi Fountain in Lithia Park for $350,000.

Some encouraging news came out of Tuesday’s council meeting, including a prediction from one councilor that the solar systems and the fountain repair may be dropped from the bond request. That would be prudent, because residents are already concerned about a tax increase and because those two projects are not directly related to city building needs.

Reducing the number of projects included in the request should appeal to critics who say the city spends money too freely and sees Ashland property owners as a perpetual source of cash for any and all projects.

Opponents of the plan continue to question the need to build a new City Hall rather than remodeling the existing structure to meet modern earthquake standards while preserving a historic structure constructed 128 years ago. But there are good reasons for that choice.

Question-and-answer documents posted on the city’s website make clear that “restoring” the existing building would still require demolishing all but three exterior walls and rebuilding the interior as new construction while shoring up the exterior to withstand the shaking likely to come from a major earthquake. The key consideration is the additional time that would be required to restore rather than rebuild from scratch.

Restoration would add four months of construction activity and resulting disruption to the Plaza area, which would likely stretch into the summer tourist season, placing an additional burden on downtown merchants during their most profitable time of the year.

The biggest concern with delaying a new City Hall is the safety of the city staff working inside a building that engineers say would collapse in an earthquake. City officials say plans would have to be made to move out of the building if the bond measure fails.

The council should proceed at its next meeting Feb. 18 to place a scaled-down bond request on the May ballot, not just because of the need to replace the City Hall but because the Community Center and Pioneer Hall are unusable in their present condition and the city does not have the money to complete repair work without the bond proceeds.

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