City hall project moves forward

Of the many projects on the city's plate, one that seems particularly pressing is construction of a new city hall.

The project has been in the works since at least 2005 but has yet to move beyond the conceptual stage.

"From April of '05 to present date we have visited about 33 sites, made offers on seven sites and for a variety of reasons those offers have not been consummated," said Sequim capital projects manager Frank Needham.

The project was brought before the city council during its Feb. 19 study session, to bring the council up to speed and receive council direction.

Space is tight at city hall and not all administrative offices are under one roof.

The planning and public works departments are in a leased building on Fifth Avenue, the city manager and attorney are on Cedar Street, the police department is in a leased suite on West Washington Street and the city's boards and committees usually meet at the transit center on Cedar Street.

The main goal of a new city hall is to create a building where the majority of city staff can collectively reside. The police department plans on maintaining a separate facility.

"I've been in city hall and it's not a pleasant atmosphere to work in," Mayor Laura Dubois said.

Creating a space that is adequate for now and 30 to 50 years down the line, however, is easier said than done. For starters, although there are a number of sites that have been considered, it's questionable how accommodating each property is for a new city hall and council members' opinions vary as to where the facility should be located.

Some council members, including Dubois, are leaning toward having the new city hall built on its current site on Cedar Street because it is a central downtown location. A major benefit of the site is that the city already owns the land, so it's a cost-effective proposal. But, according to Needham there might not be enough space.

"The problem with the downtown location is that we're constrained. We're constrained in that we can't exceed that 35-foot height limitation and we need additional land, which means that we have to buy properties that may not be forthcoming in a sale that would be economic," Needham said. "So then we have to condemn them, go into a market environment - appraisal and all that - and we're going to be paying a lot more money for that land than somebody just going over and buying a house."

Supporters of the downtown location see the future city hall as a sort of civic center with open space that could be used by the city's Open Aire Market.

Another possibility is the 27 acres north of Carrie Blake Park that make up the city's water-reuse site.

"But the community's been very clear that we do not build on the water reuse site because that is a park in their minds, and another constraining factor is in the agreement to create that site that we have with the Department of Ecology, state of Washington, was that whatever we put on the site demonstrated water reuse," said Needham.

Needham believes that it's possible to create a city hall there and demonstrate water reuse successfully but that the community is generally opposed to development on the site.

Another consideration is the Burroughs property on Sequim Avenue north of the U.S. Highway 101 interchange.

According to Needham, any plans are very general, only in "footprints."

Councilman Ken Hays informed city staff during the Feb. 19 meeting that he wanted the project to be planned as creatively as possible and to think outside the box when choosing a site as well as when actually designing the building. Hays believes that every possible site should fully examined, having their pros and cons weighed, before whittling down the possibilities to only a select few.

"I'm just interested in having more options looked at," said Hays. "I think you've got to seek out the problem first before you can solve it, and we haven't fully defined the problem."

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