SOLON– The continuing story of Solon’s quest for a new city hall entered a new chapter last week as council members voted to demolish the building it purchased at 100 W. Main St.
Engineering estimates for the renovation of the former candy store had come in at $1.8 million, almost three times the $650,000 available for the project. And when city hall committee members asked for revised numbers that reflected the actual budget, they learned they couldn’t fully finish the main level.
As a result, council members voted unanimously at the March 6 meeting to accept a bid of $12,875 from Chris’ Excavating to tear the 40-year-old structure down.
The city took possession of the vacated commercial building in July 2012, intending to convert the two-story location into city offices and council chambers. The structure was constructed in 1972 and features pre-stressed concrete ceilings and 7,200 square feet of space, with apartments on the second level.
The council authorized borrowing up to $900,000 in Tax Increment Finance (TIF) bonds to finance the purchase and renovation of the Main Street building, and with a $214,000 purchase price and the cost of asbestos removal, there was roughly $655,000 available for renovations.
The city hall committee– city administrator Cassandra Lippincott, public works director Scott Kleppe, mayor Cami Rasmussen, and council members Mark Krall and Steve Stange– have worked since September to develop a basic framework of improvements for the building and the next steps needed to move forward.
That included working with Shive-Hattery’s Brian Gotwals to develop a basic concept plan and early price estimates, which came in at a jaw-dropping $1.8 million.
“We were disappointed with that,” Rasmussen said. “We thought we made clear what our objectives were and our financial situation.”
A scaled-back version more recently submitted by the architectural firm would have cost over $800,000, but, as Krall lamented during the meeting, “we couldn’t even get the bottom floor finished. We couldn’t get it usable.”
Abandoning the renovation project means the city will now look at new construction of an affordable, single-story building.
According to Lippincott, committee members are investigating a solid core, pre-engineered building featuring structural insulated panels.
“I know that we can get a building and get the whole space usable for the money we have set aside for this,” Krall told council members. “The figures that have been presented to us so far, it looks like it can get done.”
At least the city would have one full level of space to use, he noted. “With that old building, we just can’t quite get it done.”
A new building will not leave a lot of room for growth, nor will it be expected to be the long term, 25-year solution the council members were hoping for when they considered a bond issue for the purchase of the Brosh Chapel and Community Center in 2011.
“The reality is that when the bond issue failed, our opportunity to grow within the facility went down the road for the most part,” said Stange during Wednesday’s meeting. “The community said they wanted something smaller. The reality is we’re in a place where we can operate for 10 to 15 years and the next council will have to figure that out.”
Mayor Rasmussen indicated during the meeting the city is committed to the location, in close proximity to the fire station and on Main Street, but the timeline is in flux.
“We’re not sure this will all develop in time for us to get going this year,” she said. “But in case we do, this (the demolition) still needs to happen.
The quoted price for tearing the building down was more reasonable than anticipated, Rasmussen said, and committee members are behind the idea of new construction. “If council agrees, we can go ahead and get this part done,” she said.
“I think the writing is on the wall,” said council member Brad Kunkel.
Lippincott said Friday no date had been determined for the deconstruction project. She said the council committee would continue to investigate its options.
“We still want to get a building up this year,” she noted.