Municipal building still on the back burner

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By Jennifer Garcia

Plans for a new municipal building are still at a standstill, even though the item was on Tuesday night’s meeting agenda.

The agenda item stated councilors would have a discussion and possibly take action related to the development of a process for site and construction of a new municipal building.

At the end of the discussion, no action was taken, but council had a good idea of what they wanted to see.

Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro, Community Development Director Rick Bohn, Public Information Office Julie Habiger and Capital Projects and Facilities Director Anne Laurent all spoke and gave presentations at the meeting.

Habiger began the discussion by showing a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the history and site selection process of the municipal building.

The latest action taken on the site dates back to December, when the RFP with DePonte was canceled because negotiations with the Elks Lodge fell through.

In January, following the cancellation, council directed staff to bring back a new municipal building project with options for consideration.

Bohn presented to councilors the idea of a citizen’s steering committee that could be implemented by the county.

The committee would help point county staff in the right direction and provide them with recommendations regarding a new municipal building. In addition to the steering committee, a consultant would also be hired.

Councilor Ralph Phelps asked Mortillaro if an economic analysis had been done in 2007 to evaluate the cost benefits of moving the municipal building to the 15th and Trinity location that DePont was trying to negotiate.

“I don’t believe so. The idea came up late in the committee’s report. It was introduced by Kevin Holsapple of the LACDC as an alternative that should be considered in parallel with putting the building back in this location,” Mortillaro responded. “Council accepted that as an approach that should be considered.”

Phelps seemed surprised at Mortillaro’s answer. “In the business world, one of the key concepts before you make a change like that is to make economic analyses. That’s one thing that jumped out at me,” he said.

Despite many different location options that the county has explored, Councilor Nona Bowman said that people still want the municipal building to be located where the old one was, however, parking for that particular site has been a challenge.

One of the suggestions to alleviate parking problems at the former municipal building site was the construction of a parking garage.

“I think the issue I felt that might concern people was the parking garage. You might mention that we did discuss underground parking. That was quite costly, but would have eliminated the parking garage,” she said.

Since the county canceled the RFP with DePonte, county staff has been left with trying to figure out a new location for construction of the municipal building but has so far had no luck.

Further discussion followed, regarding square footage of the old building versus square footage of the proposed building. In addition, Bowman asked Mortillaro if other options, such as leasing an already existing building somewhere in Los Alamos had been explored. Mortillaro said that particular option had not been discussed, however, if that is the direction council wanted to go in, then it’s something that would be explored.

Chair Mike Wheeler said that defining the public process and having it modeled after the White Rock Master Plan process is important.

“That was a successful process,” he said. “I think that’s the way to go. If it requires consulting time, that’s the way to go.”

He also mentioned that council gets hammered regularly by the public for having tried to handle projects without professional analysis.

At the end of his comment period, Wheeler further suggested that staff proceed with establishing a citizen’s steering committee.

“We’re not taking a formal action, but we’re providing direction, he said. However, Chiravalle said that going down the steering committee route would add more time to an already lengthy process.

Despite reservations from Chiravalle regarding the committee and suggestions from Bowman regarding which site options she’d like to explore, council agreed to discuss the site possibilities at the next opportune time. No action was taken during Tuesday night’s meeting.