News

Cheap fix elusive for City Hall

Oak Harbor City Hall has problems.

The 50-year-old building is overcrowded. It has a faulty heating system, no security and an outdated electrical system. City leaders are looking for cheap, short-term solutions to the problem.

City staff found solutions, but they’re not exactly cheap. It’ll cost about $500,000 to fix the problems for about five years.

City Council decided Jan. 3 to go ahead with a $250,000 remodeling project, but it’s only meant as a short-term fix that doesn’t solve the crowding. The city attorney is looking into moving the legal department to rented office space, but he’s finding this to be an expensive proposition at about $255,000.

Meanwhile, City Council members seem reluctant to consider a long-term, costly fix. Ron Peterson, the city’s $11,000 space-need consultant, offered the council two alternatives — a five-year or ten-year fix — for resolving the problems at City Hall. He said at the end of whatever option the council chooses, they should have a new, larger City Hall constructed at the end of the period.

Instead of discussing a new building — estimated to cost $2.4 million — council members have so far focused on patching up the current building and even toyed with the idea of sticking modular office space in the parking lot.

Finance Director Doug Merriman recently proposed that the city move forward with the short-term remodeling plan as outlined by Peterson, but without moving council chambers. He said the project can be funded over five years within the current maintenance budget, with most of the work completed in the first couple of years.

The project consists of $105,000 in remodeling, $50,000 to fix the heating and air conditioning system, $40,000 to bolster security, $10,000 for record storage, $17,500 for new work stations, $10,000 for project management and a 10 percent contingency.

But the $250,000 project won’t fix the current crowding problem in the legal office and it doesn’t make room for the estimated 12 extra staff members who will be hired in the next ten years. Under Peterson’s plan, council chambers would be turned into offices.

In the legal department, there’s three attorneys and two support staff members in three offices. The paralegal doesn’t have a place to interview witnesses, which is part of her job. The prosecutor is sharing an office and computer with a police officer. A new code enforcement officer is also part of the department, but he’s currently working at a borrowed desk elsewhere.

File boxes are piled all over the office, creating a tripping hazard.

“It’s not a good situation,” said City Attorney Phil Bleyhl.

Bleyhl said he’s exploring the possibility of renting office space in a SE Barrington Drive building for the legal department, but experienced “sticker shock” at the cost of rent and moving the office. He’s asking the City Council to consider the proposed lease of office space at their Jan. 17 meeting, though he’s not asking them to approve the plan. He said the city should look into other alternatives before making decisions.

“There’s no cheap solution to City Hall’s problems,” he said. He pointed out that if the city spends $255,000 to move the office, there will be no asset or gain at the end of the five-year lease period.

It’s money that could be spend on a long-term solution, like a new City Hall building.

If the legal department does move out, it would leave extra space in City Hall for others. But Bleyhl pointed out that it would also be very inconvenient to split up a department in order to place staff in the office space.

“It’s not the most useful space,” he said.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

Community Events, April 2014

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