City Hall

The Hermiston City Council is considering tearing down the current city hall and building a $9 million replacement on the site.

A proposed $9 million price tag on building a new city hall has sparked a lot of questions in Hermiston, and the city is looking to provide answers.

After few residents attended the city council meeting on Feb. 10 where an overview of the proposal was presented to councilors, city staff made the same presentation again on Tuesday, at 12:30 p.m. at the Harkenrider Senior Activity Center and 6 p.m. in the Lanham Room of the Hermiston Public Library.

After the East Oregonian and Hermiston Herald broke the news of the price on Tuesday, many residents questioned on Facebook why the city couldn’t just repair its current building, which was damaged in a fire, or renovate another building it already owns.

“Are there no options other than to destroy a perfectly usable (by *somebody*, even if not the city) building?” Judy Gormley wrote. “Can we really afford to throw away that building and spend $$$$$$$ on a huge new one?”

Other residents called it an “outrageous price,” said they would rather see $9 million go toward helping the homeless, or worried that their taxes would be raised. Several asked why the city wouldn’t sell the current building, use the money to renovate the Hermiston Community Center and move in there.

What are the alternatives?

During Monday’s council meeting, city manager Byron Smith said the city had hired Architects West in 2017 to look at the city’s options for building a new city hall. The firm came up with five different proposals, which Smith said were all “within 10% of each other” in terms of estimated price.

Those options were:

  • Expand and modernize the current city hall
  • Demolish the current building and build a new one on site
  • Turn the current Hermiston Public Library into a new city hall
  • Turn the Hermiston Community Center into a new city hall
  • Build a new city hall on currently undeveloped land

“The one that scored the best was to rebuild on the existing site,” Smith said.

If the city chose not to pursue a new city hall at this time, it could also use the approximately $175,000 insurance payout to repair the smoke and fire damage to the current building.

How do they stack up?

On Wednesday the city released a document going into detail about the pros and cons of each option that the city considered.

Adding on to the current city hall was ruled out due to the limited space on site. There would not be much room to build out, and the building was built before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. If the city were to expand or do extensive remodeling, the building would have to be brought up to ADA standards, and many of the required improvements, such as adding an elevator, would take up significant space.

Three other options — building on a new site or remodeling the library or community center — could give the city extra money to work with by selling the current city hall.

However, particularly with the current damage to the building, city staff expressed concerns about being able to sell it.

“Marketability and redevelopment of the current City Hall are highly questionable, potentially creating a blighted property at the heart of downtown,” staff wrote.

The memo also expressed reservations about remodeling the Hermiston Community Center, noting that the building was already 60 years old and had originally been intended as a grocery store. According to the estimates by Architects West, it would need “extensive work” that would come within 10% of the cost of the proposed new building.

The memo stated that the community center serves “a number of needs in the community” and the city would need to put money into upgrading other facilities it owns to make up for losing the space.

Not mentioned in the memo was the fact that a private buyer, yet unnamed by the city, has expressed interest in purchasing the community center for a different use. That question could also come before the city council at some point (the city would not be able to sell the building without a public vote).

Remodeling the library would require similar ADA updates as expanding city hall, and would require the city to find a new location for its library. And building on a vacant lot would require the money to purchase that lot.

What is the recommended plan?

In the plan recommended by Architects West, the city would spend a total of $9 million — about $700,000 of which would go toward remodeling the basement of the Hermiston Public Library into a makeshift city hall during the construction period. The idea would be to perform the remodel in such a way to make the basement more usable to the library in the future.

The rest of the money would go to a two-story building plus basement — with each of the three levels about 9,200 square feet — on the current city hall site at 180 N.E. Gladys Ave. The building would include room to grow, would move all municipal court functions out of the public safety building and would move the building department out of the old Carnegie Library.

Staff have proposed paying for the building with a 30-year loan at less than 3% interest, which would require the city to come up with about $439,000 per year for payments. Smith said that the city could use Enterprise Zone payments in lieu of taxes from companies such as Amazon to cover the cost.

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