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Community group takes lead on Pioneer Hall engineering phase

ASHLAND — By unanimous Ashland City Council approval, a citizen group of construction professionals will take the lead on the engineering phase of a project to reopen Pioneer Hall and the Community Center on Windburn Way.

The city issued a request for proposal in fall of 2020 after the council directed city staff to address structural “deficiencies” in the roof and floor systems of both buildings.

At the April 20 business meeting, the City Council elected not to approve a contract with Marquess and Associates Inc., the engineering firm initially selected for the project. City Manager Pro Tem Adam Hanks sought councilor suggestions on alternative paths forward — the most popular of which was formation of an ad hoc committee, Hanks said.

According to council documents, engineering and cost-estimating services for the project will cost $11,048 for Pioneer Hall and $35,720 for the Community Center.

Historian and committee organizer George Kramer applauded the council for taking a “wise and cost effective step” by considering other options, including formation of the ad hoc committee.

With the support of Councilors Shaun Moran and Stefani Seffinger, a group of construction professionals with a combined 100 years of experience, including Kramer, an architect, an engineer and contractor reviewed engineering reports on the buildings, Kramer said. A donor has offered to supply financial support for the project as well, he said.

“We all agreed that there may be ways to address the issues that closed [the buildings] in a cost-effective manner,” Kramer said at the May 18 council meeting. “They were closed for very specific reasons and addressing those problems should be enough to reopen them.”

“We’re not asking you for a contract,” Kramer continued. “If you want to call us an ad hoc committee, I’m OK with that, but I really think we’re overthinking this. We’re offering our expertise as a community service.”

Kramer said the city could contract with builders to see the group’s pre-construction work through to fruition. If the group's assumptions about limited necessary improvements to the buildings are proven incorrect after one month, the city may hire an engineering firm to continue the original plan, he said. The city would start anew with the RFP process in such a case, Hanks said.

Public Works Director Scott Fleury said a solicitation package for engineering services would come back in front of the council for approval within three to four months after release — preceding a solicitation package for construction.

“This is a very important way to move forward with bringing the community together, working with our new councilors and our older council members in a project where we could work together,” Seffinger said. “I have a lot of confidence that this way of moving forward provides some new energy.”

Moran said his support for tapping the expertise of a citizen group was guided by public feedback, which centered around a desire to fix the two buildings at a low cost and reopen them. All group participants will be vaccinated, wear facial coverings and sign a waiver protecting the city from legal trouble if an injury occurs on site, he said.

The community group will review existing reports, evaluate the buildings and provide feedback and recommendations on next steps to the council, according to Seffinger’s motion, which passed unanimously.

Mayor Julie Akins will appoint the ad hoc committee members and the City Council will supply project scope and goals.

“There’s an emotional part to this, of trying to get the community feeling like a community again, and something like Pioneer Hall and the Community Center, having them help be part of that solution, I think that makes something wonderful in our city,” Seffinger said.