Council hedges on Municipal Building space

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Decisions on office dimensions await special meeting

By Roger Snodgrass

A week after reaching a painstaking decision about where to build a new Municipal Building, county council grappled without success to get a grip on how big to make it.

That decision has now been postponed until at least Feb. 25, when a follow-up meeting is scheduled expressly for that purpose.

The discussion identified the main issues that will be revisited, while straggling from Tuesday night into the early hours of the morning Wednesday without resolution.

Introducing the discussion, the last of four major topics on the agenda for the evening, Council Chair Michael Wismer cautioned, “We’re about to get a pretty thorough briefing. I would encourage all of us to stay at the policy level and not try to build a Municipal Building from the dais.”

Anne Laurent, capital projects and facilities director, framed the discussion in terms of changes in staff size, now meant to include the 69 people who were formerly accommodated in the Annex Building, along with staff growth, actual and projected into the future.

Two competing motions outlined the boundaries of the debate for replacing the original 27,133 square-foot Municipal Building,

Councilor Mike Wheeler moved to approve the plan by county staff, based on an area of 50,425 square feet. The motion also included optional alternatives for records and archives and PAC-8 that could add another 18,400 square feet to the structure. That motion, having been seconded by Vice Chair Sharon Stover, was withdrawn by Wheeler in favor of concluding the discussion at a later date.

A little earlier, Councilor Vincent Chiravalle had moved that council reject staff’s report, and proceed with a smaller concept of 35,000 square feet as a basis for selecting a design-build team. That motion failed without a second.

During the discussion Chiravalle said at one point that 40,000 square feet was as far as he would go.

“The size of this building, the number of square feet, is going to be very important because it is going to dictate the size and cost of the project,” he said.

In search of ways to reduce the building area, he examined Laurent’s assumptions on the size of council chambers, which would more than double the former chambers. He also scrutinized extra conference rooms, additional general space in the building and how the inclusion of the optional alternatives would impact parking.

Councilors questioned the rationale used by Laurent in determining office space. She provided a list of 14 benchmark comparisons by federal, state, county, private sector and several other groups and agencies that she used in the planning process.

“Why are our offices so much bigger than private sector offices,” Councilor Robert Gibson asked.

“The big difference from my experience is the amount of time I spend talking to people and collaborating and supporting and answering questions,” Laurent said.

Gibson also wondered why file storage was still measured in terms of square feet and not gigabytes.

Among the reasons, Laurent said, was the fact that the county was not set up with an imaging department, but there were also state legal requirements that have yet to catch up with current technology.

Three members of the public stayed into the wee hours for a chance to contribute to the discussion.

Carl Thornton said he spoke from 35 years of experience in project management and that the offices needed to be both effective and efficient.

“Please don’t cut down on the conference rooms,” he said. “Offices, task force rooms, they do have multi-use.”

He also put in a pitch for a large Council Chambers, calling for a room with some grandeur that people would be proud to walk into.

Denny Erickson, speaking as president of the Los Alamos Historical Society, appealed to the council for help in providing appropriate space for the historical archives that are currently stored in Fuller Lodge, but represent a fire hazard.

He encouraged the inclusion of the added alternatives in the design-build study, as prudent project development.

“It allows you to move the pieces around,” he said.

Richard Hanneman, who has conducted a campaign to restore the Municipal Building to its previous location, saw hope in the size of the new building plans.

“I think you could use two buildings,” he said, specifically suggesting which county functions could go back into a version of the original building.