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The Municipal Building has stood on Ashley Pond since 1967, but council decided Tuesday night to have it demolished because of structural problems.“There’s no reason the building should still be there,” structural engineer John A. Martin said. Martin is the seismic expert who assessed the building for the design firm hired by the county to look at the Municipal Building.Before the engineering report from the Hartman Majewski Design Group was submitted to the county on Jan. 11, there had been some doubt expressed by members of the public and the council regarding the fragile condition of the structure.The report showed both vertical and lateral load deficiencies, and recommended a complete overhaul of the building if it were to be saved, at a cost of $23,816,360. The cost to replace the building is currently estimated at $27,101,180.Project manager Steven Huebner listed several advantages of new construction over renovation.“It eliminates the functional obsolescence of an old building, it eliminates the unknowns of remodeling, it increases flexibility with the judicial complex and it reduces longevity risks,” Huebner said.Council accepted the engineering report, and agreed in a 6-to-0 vote that the Municipal Building should be replaced rather than renovated. Councilor Jim West was absent.Councilor Robert Gibson said, “I was skeptical of the condition. Reluctantly, I agree. I’m afraid the building has got to come down.”“I think that the people who designed the building ignored the state-of-the-art at the time,” Martin said. “The design does not meet the uniform building code (that was in effect at the time). Yes, I think they dropped the ball.”Public opinion on the demolition was divided, with resident Richard Hanneman adamantly opposed to tearing the building down.“That building is part of the historical value of this town,” Hanneman said.Greg Kendall and Neale Pickett both spoke in favor of constructing a new building.The price per square foot for a new building was of concern to councilors.“I’m deeply concerned about the cost of this,” Council Chair Jim Hall said. “I come up with $524 per square foot. That’s more than the jail. From my perspective right now, there’s no way I could vote for something that costs $524 per square foot.”Councilor Nona Bowman echoed Hall’s comments, saying, “I think we have to get more for our money.”Council also decided to issue a new request for proposals to build a Municipal complex in the downtown area in a 4-to-2 vote, with councilors Gibson and Wheeler opposed.
Long Range Financial Plan
The county’s Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne presented a talk, titled, “Can we afford it?” The presentation was designed to give councilors the numbers they need to make decisions on capital projects, such as the Municipal Building and the Judicial/Police-Jail Complex.Lynne outlined the assumptions he uses to budget for the county’s capital improvement program.He has brought three revenue scenarios to council this year. The baseline projection uses the 2007 revenues, and conservative and “worse than expected” scenarios project a reduction in revenues. He used the conservative scenario for Tuesday’s lesson.Lynne’s answer was “yes, we can afford it and still maintain quality essential services.”Councilors thanked Lynne for his presentation, but disagreed.“I can’t concur with your conclusion,” Gibson said. “We‘re now in the same boat with all the other communities. Our needs and wants exceed our available resources.”“We’ve heard this doom and gloom before, and we’re in better shape than we’ve ever been before,” Wheeler said.
At their Aug. 21, 2007, meeting, council directed staff to proceed from the 30-percent to the 60-percent design phase on a complex that would include a new jail addition, remodeling of the police department and the building of two courtrooms to accommodate the three courts that operate in Los Alamos County. At the Oct. 2 council meeting, council reconsidered that decision and directed that work be suspended pending review. Tuesday, council adopted Milder’s motion to proceed in a 4-to-2 vote, with councilors Gibson and Bowman opposed.“If we pass that, we’re right back where we were three or four months ago,” Gibson said. “We asked for options, and we didn’t get them. If we pass this, we’re wimping out.”Project Manager David Apple has brought the plans for the complex back to council several times since October, including the cost-saving measure of removing the Magistrate Court from the program. Tuesday, Apple was directed to try to keep the Magistrate Court as part of the project.“It has been go and stop, go and stop, go and stop,” Councilor Ken Milder said. “I’m comfortable with moving forward on it.”“I believe I made my concerns about costs clear,” Hall said. “The time to stand hard about costs was months ago, not now. I’ll make my stand on the new county building.”