Today’s column is about, you guessed it, the new City Hall that city council still hopes to build. Although it may seem to many, and even to myself at times, that this is all I ever write about, it has actually been since May 24 that I have given an update. And, believe me, I am as sick and tired of it as you may be.
Citizens who follow this issue may have been shocked to read the quotes last week in this paper by city council members . From J.D. Willis: “I’m not so much hung up on the need for additional space,” and from Drew Williamson: “I think it’s worthwhile for us to take a look at what our needs really are.”
Did council finally start listening to what citizens have been telling them for the past year? After wasting $125,000 of the citizen’s money on a design for a much larger building, has council maybe now realized that they should actually see what is needed first?
No, that would be a step in the right direction, one that this council will only take if absolutely forced to. The reason for this ‘Come to Jesus’ moment by council is because they finally were confronted with the facts.
In 2013, a so-called ‘space needs’ for City Hall and police staff was performed by the architectural firm Oakley Collier. Their conclusions, which were based on interviews with city staff were (surprise, surprise), that more space would be needed in the future. These ‘space needs’ are included in the current 23,000 square foot ‘cracker box palace’ and include, for the approximately 25 employees who will occupy the building at any one time, a fitness room, a roll-call room, four conference rooms, three break rooms, four lobbies, and , well, you get the idea.
However, since 2013, city staff has not grown. In fact, it has shrunk from 154 employees to 143 — a seven percent decrease — which includes the police department shrinking from 45 employees to 40, an 11 percent decrease, due to the dispatchers moving from the city to the county 911 Center. It is only because of these facts that Council has finally admitted that they have not studied the issue to see what the space” needs” really are. One would have hoped that would have been done before spending $125,000 on plans for a bigger building. But, ever since J.D. Willis asked the City Manager Charles Nichols in March of 2015 to report back to council on how much a bigger, brand new City Hall would cost, this council has not fairly considered the facts, all of which point to the obvious conclusion that the need for a bigger City Hall is an absurd idea.
So now what? Will council find new justification for their dear new City Hall. Is the Pope Catholic? City council has already commenced with a new strategy to try to mislead the public that a new City Hall is needed. But now it’s a smaller, slightly less expensive new City Hall — lets call it the new McCity Hall.
This new McCity Hall is needed because, according to J.D. Willis, the current City Hall is a “disaster” and council member Dee Hammonds says she wouldn’t want a loved one working there (hopefully the police didn’t take that personally). However, just like council made erroneous and costly misjudgments on the space “needs” justification for a new City Hall, I am confident that these ‘safety issues’ will be more of the same.
OSHA inspectors gave approval of the current City Hall in 2013-2014, with only minor citations, since corrected. And our friendly architects, Oakley Collier, in 2013 gave an estimate that the current 12,000 square foot City Hall could be renovated and brought up to code for a reasonable $1 million — since none of masonry walls that Councilman Willis’ assured us had to be moved will, after all, need to be moved. However, if council is interested in doing what really “needs” to be done, just a nice cosmetic face lift for under $500,000 would make our City Hall a safe and attractive place for our valued police and staff.
Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.