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Seismic decision on Ashland City Hall

Ashland City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to keep City Hall in its current location at 20 E. Main St. — probably.

The council agreed it needed to move forward with a plan as soon as possible to make City Hall seismically safe, and the current location is the most cost-effective of the options the city has considered, but council reserved the right to change its decision later.

Although there’s a lot about the building that needs to be improved, the most pressing matter in terms of safety and liability is that the city has known for years that the building is not earthquake proof.

Councilor Stefani Seffinger said she lost a friend in an unsafe building during a large earthquake in Santa Cruz, and it was very traumatizing.

“I think it’s very important to make our city as safe as possible,” Seffinger said.

The council instructed staff to look at options to seismically retrofit the existing building and update interior systems such as the plumbing, or to rebuild the entire structure at the site.

Public Works Director Paula Brown said architectural firm ORW will bring back a scope of work in the next 2 to 3 months that will include a cost estimate and preliminary designs of both options. The council can then decide which plan to pursue.

Brown said it will take ORW about six months to complete a final design.

The council also directed staff to create an asset assessment to review all city properties and potential locations, which it noted could end up furnishing a better space for City Hall.

The council reserved the right to change its decision if another location looks better after the assessment; however, it agreed that moving forward with renovating the current space is the best and most cost efficient option for now.

“It’s not fair to ask public servants and the public to enter a building we know is unsafe when there’s a big earthquake on the way,” Seffinger said, referring to the possibility of a subduction zone earthquake that many scientists believe is overdue. “I believe that we need to retrofit the City Hall regardless of where eventually things go. ... I think the longer we wait, the more it will cost to retrofit.”

City staff have said construction costs are rising about 5.5% annually. The estimated cost of the project is estimated at $6.7 million through 2025.

Other options that have been considered included rebuilding at the current location but adding two stories at a cost estimate in 2019 dollars of $12.3 million; renovating the Briscoe School property to include City Hall and other city departments at an estimate of $15.3 million; and building a new City Hall to include other city departments at the civic center/council chambers property for about $18.9 million

Councilor Tonya Graham asked that the asset assessment include the values of city properties and essential services.

“When we ask this asset question, part of it is, ‘What are the different buildings and land that we have here?’” Graham asked. “But also, part of it is, ‘What are we trying to do?’ And ‘Are things in the places that we think they would be the most effective?’ Because if there was ever a time to change where something is, it would be while we actually have some flex in the system.”

City Administrator Kelly Madding suggested that an asset list could be compiled in the next 45 days, and that the council could schedule a study session to discuss the list and delve into appropriate uses of each asset.

Graham also asked that the planning documents include energy assessments.

“I think at this point we know that we have an old envelope of a building, and we should compare what that looks like from a cost standpoint but also from a climate standpoint ... to make sure that it’s as energy efficient as possible,” Graham said. “I think that will help us make those decisions between its historical value and its energy use.”

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

The small addition at the south end of the building, now a portion of the finance department, is visible behind the parked cars. Photo taken from the city council packet.{ }
This image was taken before the 1913 additions. The exterior staircase is still in the same location. Photo taken from the city council packet.{ }