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Council changes tune, backs City Hall restoration

The Ashland City Council committed Tuesday to restoring, rather than razing, City Hall and will host a team of architects in an effort to provide clarity on the project’s potential downtown impact before voters determine the fate of the $8.2 million bond in May.

The council voted 6-0 to pass a motion Mayor John Stromberg drafted ahead of time, backing out of a previous commitment to rebuild the structure, originally built in 1891, and instead “reconstruct the existing City Hall in such a manner as to preserve its historical character and substance.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the council appointed Paul Behrhorst to the Wildfire Safety Commission, approved a slightly revised set of operating procedures for future meetings and briefly covered its early response to the coronavirus.

After public comments by former Mayor Cathy Shaw and Ashland Historic Commission chairman Dale Shostrom in favor of reconstructing City Hall with an emphasis on preservation, the council talked at length about what information needed to be gathered and when in order to help voters make an informed decision. The city released the summary of the 20-year general obligation bond last week, but the deadline for filing voters’ pamphlet material with the Elections Division isn’t until Thursday, March 12.

A team of architects led by the firm the city picked to draw up the plans, ORW Architecture of Medford, is planning to visit Ashland in order to give the city a clearer picture of how long construction could last and what it may look like — details which may shed light on its potential impact to downtown businesses. Among the architects scheduled to visit is Peter Meijer of Peter Meijer Architect, which received a 2019 DeMuro Award for excellence in “preservation, reuse, and community revitalization.”

A cost estimator from ACC Cost Consultants of Tigard will also visit Ashland, City Administrator Kelly Madding said.

The hope is that the experts will be able to provide the city with more precise cost and time frame estimates, although when they’ll actually make the trip has yet to be determined.

“But the cost estimates that we have, based on where we are in the design process, is appropriate,” Madding said Wednesday.

“And,” added Stromberg, “it was done by a professional cost estimator when we were looking at the three possible locations for city hall — Briscoe (Elementary), a council chambers area or downtown.”

The estimated cost of restoring City Hall on the plaza, including design, temporary relocation of staff, demolition and construction, is $7.2 million. The bond, if passed, will also cover the cost of renovating Pioneer Hall, built in 1921, and the Ashland Community Center, built in 1922.

“I think that we would like to have a more detailed timeline,” Madding said. “I guess the bottom line is we want to be able to provide the most information we can to the voters at the stage we’re at, which is not a final design stage.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Ashland's historic City Hall is in need of a seismic upgrade. Daily Tidings/ Denise Baratta