A hitch, then a go-ahead

By Burk Krohe

City commissioners took up what normally would have been a routine item Tuesday after one of them expressed spending concerns.

Commissioner John Matta wanted a more in-depth conversation about a request for qualifications (RFQ) for three projects—the expansion of city parks and recreation offices, the renovation of the city auditorium and the renovation of the city’s community building. Ultimately, Matta’s fellow commissioners voted to proceed with the RFQ.

Jason Hilgers, assistant city manger, said the improvements have been needed for some time. He said the parks and recreation office has been in “park shops that were modified to accommodate those offices” for 30 years. Hilgers said the nine rooms and single restroom must accommodate the entire full-time and part-time staff.

The city auditorium was constructed in the 1950s and has no air conditioning. Hilgers said the stage and seating area are underutilized 80 to 90 percent of the time. High competition for gym space in the community puts additional stress on the facility.

He said the community building, at Fourth and Humboldt streets currently serves 3,000 participants in various activities. The building has an aging infrastructure and inadequate year-round climate control, though.

“We’re going to have to put money into that facility,” Hilgers said.

A preliminary concept envisions adding parks and recreation offices where the existing seating area is located in the city auditorium. It would allow the expansion of the auditorium to the west and south to potentially add space for two or three full basketball/volleyball courts.

“I don’t think anyone would disagree we need to do some things to improve the working conditions in the parks and rec office,” Ron Fehr, city manager, said.

However, before dedicating funding, the city wants to explore how to best use the $1.8 million available in the capital improvement reserve fund. Fehr said the RFQ would basically be a feasibility study. The city would look for qualified design firms to conduct a preliminary analysis of the project. Hilgers said the cost of such an analysis could be anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000.

Matta didn’t think the city should be so eager to spend those funds. He said he is still aiming to keep the mill levy flat and would prefer to hold off on funding the RFQ until after the 2013 budget is completed in August.

“I’m a little leery if we don’t get that number to come and tell tax payers ‘I’m going to increase your taxes at the same time I’m spending over $1 million on office renovations,’” Matta said.

He also worried the city will feel compelled to start the project because it already spent funds on the RFQ.

But the rest of the Commission didn’t agree. Commissioner Rich Jankovich said if the analysis is done sooner, the city will have better information on how use the reserve fund. Mayor Loren Pepperd also noted the city has been promising to do something with the parks and recreation offices for several years.

“As much as anything it’s a morale issue for our staff and the public,” Curt Loupe, director of park and recreation, said.

Loupe also said the timing would work out well. He believes if the project is feasible, starting sooner would put the city at the top of contractor’s list for 2014 rather than at the bottom. Commissioner Wynn Butler said Loupe made a good case.

“I’ve been over there, and it’s about the sorriest building I’ve ever seen for people to have to work in,” Butler said. “We need to do something about that.”

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