• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

Lego City Hall?

Local planner weighs in

Months after ballooning construction costs sent the Eugene City Council back to the drawing board, councilors and city staff continue to thumb through a confusing array of City Hall possibilities.

Without a clue to indicate what the different possibilities might cost taxpayers, the council is taking stabs in the dark. Councilor Chris Pryor likened the muddled process to playing with Legos at an Oct. 19 Joint Elected Officials Work Session.

Architect and EW columnist Jerry Diethelm has long criticized city management for its lack of foresight and transparency surrounding the City Hall project. Hoping to ease the cramped City Hall deliberations, Diethelm put in his two cents late last month when he circulated his own plans to city staff, county personnel and consultants at Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architects.

The city hired Cameron McCarthy this past summer after Lane County indicated it was interested in a possible land swap involving the county-owned “butterfly” parking lot and courthouse for some or all of the former City Hall site. 

Worried that the process had gotten lost in the weeds, Diethelm says he submitted his own plan in order to help the City Hall project get back on track.

“I don’t think you’ll find a cheaper, easier, more distinctive Park Blocks-centered City Hall,” Diethelm says of his plan. “It’s got all the pluses, I think.”

Diethelm’s plan is similar to some of the options Cameron McCarthy’s Larry Gilbert brought to the table in October, though Diethelm’s work focuses on a more tightly consolidated campus.

Diethelm, a planning and design consultant who is a UO professor emeritus after teaching for 35 years in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, wants to see the future City Hall building on the north end of the county’s butterfly lot. His plan hinges on the city acquiring and remodeling the existing county courthouse, as well as some of the office space in the Lane County Public Service Building. 

Diethelm’s drawing shows the two buildings connected by a nifty sky bridge that stretches across Oak Street.

Though the city-county real estate deal remains to be negotiated, Diethelm says it’s not far-fetched to imagine the city getting its hands on both the butterfly lot and the existing courthouse.

Eugene Community Relations Director Jan Bohman says the city received Diethelm’s plan but declines further comment, noting that the city receives a lot of suggestions from interested stakeholders.

Gilbert of Cameron McCarthy did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Mayor Kitty Piercy says the city is “open to input and appreciates all thoughts and suggestions. In our work with the county, we have looked at a variety of scenarios and narrowed them down to three for the consultants to delve into more deeply. There are absolutely no decisions made yet on a preferred location.”

Pryor rejects any plan that involves remodeling the courthouse: “In some cases trying to clean up an old Lego is more expensive than building a new Lego.”

“I would prefer to build a new building that does the job than to remodel a building simply because it’s remodeling,” he emphasized at an Oct. 26 council session, adding: “My admittedly limited experience with building new versus remodeling is that remodeling is more expensive because you discover all of these things you didn’t know were there, all of these things that were not on the plans, all of these unexpected things. And that’s always been the case.”

Diethelm, who advocated for remodeling the former City Hall that was subsequently torn down, argues the courthouse’s steel bones are strong and could easily be reinforced and remodeled to meet the city’s needs.

“It’ll be a little hard for the city to swallow [my plan] after spending $12 million on the wrong site,” he adds, “but they will find this is the best way.”