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Inching toward a City Hall decision

Ashland City Hall is outdated and not seismically fit, which means anyone injured in the building or from falling debris could sue the city, City Attorney Dave Lohman said Monday, Sept. 30, during an Ashland City Council study session.

Because the potential for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake is well known, and the city is aware that the building isn’t safe, it’s a liability, Lohman said.

“The bottom line is if there were a significant earthquake, having done nothing would result in a big problem for us in terms of liability,” Lohman said. “If there were an earthquake; however, and we had a plan in place and were actively pursuing it, we would be pretty well protected.”

A decision on City Hall construction has been delayed all year because of various scheduling conflicts, but staff is recommending that the council decide soon because construction inflation is estimated at 5.5% to 7% annually. The project is expected to take a couple of years to complete.

The city has been discussing the reconstruction or relocation of City Hall for more than 20 years, according to a staff report. Staff urged the council to take action on the matter at its next regular meeting, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at council chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

Project lead Kaylea Kathol said staff plans to recommend the current location, based on the direction they feel the council is leaning.

She said the building will need a seismic retrofit, and a lot of outdated infrastructure will need to be replaced.

She said they won’t recommend adding two floors to the current building, as was included in a conceptual design.

At Monday’s meeting, Public Works Director Paula Brown said she agrees with feedback she’s received that those additional floors would make the building overpower other buildings on the Plaza.

“When you look at an additional third story or fourth story, I understand it would be overpowering, it’s a beautiful building,” Brown said. “Maybe we’re not there yet, maybe we’ll look at it again in 100 years from now.”

City Hall, at 20 E. Main St., was built in 1891 and expanded in 1913. Since then the only improvements have been to the interior.

“When you look at the seismic retrofit and the system updates that are so necessary in that building, we really are peeling the inside out of it, retaining three walls and building that building all over from the inside,” Brown said. “It will look the same on the outside. We might make some modifications with the Historic Commission — whether that’s painting, or the facades or maybe a new entry door — because we do want to tie to the Plaza.”

Throughout the discussions, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that if City Hall remains on the plaza, it should be as historically accurate as possible.

Brown emphasized that the options were presented only as conceptual designs, and the cost estimates will increase each year.

“We know we’re facing financial concerns with our community,” Brown said.

Options being discussed include:

Rebuild at the current location and retain much of the façade

Seismic retrofit of existing City Hall

Renovate the Briscoe School to include community development/engineering and City Hall

Build a new City Hall at the council chambers/Ashland civic center location to include community development/engineering.

A rebuild at the current location was estimated at $12.3 million. Based on inflation of 5.5 percent, the cost could rise to $16.1 million by 2024.

A seismic retrofit of the existing building would cost $6 million in 2019, with an estimate of $7.8 million in 2024.

A rebuild at the civic center would cost $18.9 million in 2019, or an estimated $24.7 million in 2024.

Upgrading the recently purchased Briscoe School property would cost $15.3 million in 2019, and is estimated at $20 million in 2024.

The city still owes approximately $1.2 million on the Briscoe property, according to City Administrator Assistant Adam Hanks. Hanks said the city will pay about $110,000 annually to the school district for the next 14 years, but that cost is covered by its lease with the current occupants, the Oregon Child Development Coalition. If City Hall moved to the Briscoe property, OCDC would no longer be able to rent space and the remaining debt would be added to the estimated cost of turning Briscoe into a city building.

Kathol said that debt is not included in the cost of moving to Briscoe.

But both the Briscoe property and the civic center options consider the offset of selling the community development building. If either the Briscoe or civic center options were chosen, the community development and engineering departments would move into the new building.

To provide input on the City Hall options, email Ashland City Council at council@ashland.or.us with the subject line “City Hall.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

A conceptual design for a new City Hall at the Civic Center site, 1175 E. Main St. courtesy of ORW Architecture.{ }
A conceptual design of a new City Hall at its current location on the downtown Plaza courtesy of ORW Architecture.