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Standing Naked

City Hall’s massive framework can be saved, built upon

I hope the community will take the time now, before it is too late, to visit the exposed structural frame of our City Hall. It currently has been reduced to the frame, structure or bones. It is very open, transparent, extravagant and architecturally significant. It is still a strong and valuable base one could build from anew if our city seriously embraced sustainability.

This is the structural base condition that previous studies had suggested a new City Hall could spring from for a next generation of users. This is the framework that, with some modification and new clothes, could be brought sustainably into the new century. 

I realize it was apparently too hard for some to imagine the potential until the old and deteriorating skin and walls were peeled back. It was too difficult to envision an uncared for and degraded City Hall being transformed into an energy efficient, modern building. But now that very real possibility stands naked and apparent for all to see.

The citizens committee that considered whether to rebuild from the frame or build a new building supported the rebuild from the structural frame approach, after they came to appreciate its potential and the cost advantages it would provide. But they were overruled by a majority of our decision makers and leaders, intent on having a shiny new building, even though it would mean throwing away a frame easily retrofitted to two to three times the area being replaced and a parking structure that housed more than 100 cars and sacrificing or throwing away $6 million to $8 million or more, in order to build a fashionable new box. 

It takes very little imagination to see the possibilities of this frame as a significant statement for this community. The original concept is still evident and simply needs updating for the criteria of the next generation, not difficult and still possible. In a community that mouths “sustainability,” throwing away this beautiful piece is criminal and suggests that there is a very serious community problem. 

What has become clear during this experience is that we don’t hire or elect a city manager or decision makers for their imagination, creativity and vision. We do, however, hire and elect them for their fiscal prowess and responsibility. I believe we got neither. To pay for the costs of chasing fashion we close and don’t maintain parks, reduce necessary community services and replace City Hall with only the manager’s offices, the mayor and council members’ offices and a council chamber. Meanwhile, we will continue to rent spaces for services and staff, scattered throughout the community, spending $1 million extra rent every year.

My hope is that the voters and those who hire managers add creativity, vision and imagination along with fiscal responsibility to the selection criteria. Without these skills, we will simply be and look like what we have seen elsewhere and a cheaper version reproduced for our city. We are very slow learners. We destroyed our downtown and have spent enormous sums of money to recover a portion of what we had and lost, and now we’re in the process of doing it again. This is not responsible leadership, creativity nor fiscal management, and we need a change. 

I urge everyone to go and view the City Hall frame, give it a second look and imagine what we could or still can achieve. Please join me in seeking management and decision makers with a deeper and more profound vision the next time we go to the polls. 

All photos by Kevin Matthews