Article writen by: Suzanne Penegor and Gienie Assink
Mike Penwell, Facilities Design and Construction Manager for the City of Eugene, spoke to the Lane Co. Rubicon Society on Nov. 15 th regarding the Eugene City Council’s directive to research replacing the Eugene City Hall.
The current city hall, built in 1964, has been outgrown by new Eugene agencies like the politically correct Human Rights Commission. The city now has several locations for police stations like on campus, and various places around Eugene that need a police presence.
Penwell stated the city council has given city agencies a directive to stay at the current site and replace it with a new building. One Rubicon member asked if the city could take over the old Federal Building in Eugene and renovate that; Penwell stated that would be an option if the Fed. government would make their building a surplus building. He suggested Rubicon members contact the Oregon Congressional delegation regarding that option.
Other areas of existing downtown office space were also discussed such as the fourth floor of the Eugene Library and the Atrium Building. Penwell also stated consolidation of city agencies at one location, except for possibly the police department, would facilitate communication between city agencies. This is something Eugene lacks currently.
The council and city agencies also looked at the possibility of a combination of old and new office space with a completely new building but found there was no real savings to costs by taking the hybrid renovation approach.
Penwell mentioned meetings such as this one with the Rubicon Society, are part of the city planning commission’s efforts to reach out to the community and receive public feedback. He said they have also met with almost all the neighborhood associations, and currently have a project website for citizens to access information as well as provide feedback. Community town halls have also been held regarding these plans.
Penwell stated the biggest concerns currently are the code changes, which have inflated the costs of renovating the existing building. He also mentioned planners want to draw visitors to the new facility. This brought up the question of a possible parking structure since parking is so scarce downtown. Rubicon members were told this idea had been brought up several times before and that it was being looked into.
Many members expressed concerns about the police districts and what the changes to the city hall would bring regarding coverage. Penwell noted that Eugene has not gone to a “precinct model” for community police stations because Eugene isn’t a large enough city. For now, the police department has community stations around the city, which are flexible and can be moved if necessary.
Rubicon members questioned the cost of a new building for taxpayers and expressed concerns regarding a centralized location for city agencies. In today’s society, decentralizing those offices might be better in terms of cost and convenience for citizens. Particularly since so much information can be accessed online. One Rubicon member mentioned this was important to consider particularly for the younger generation. Why would the younger generation of citizens want to pay a tax bill for a facility they do not care to use?
Penwell said the estimated cost of a new building would be anywhere from $120 to $180 million. He said the city now has about $30 to $40 million in a facility replacement fund and another $50 million available in other funding.
Penwell stated the consolidation issue involves supporting the city council processes. He said it is better for city employees to do business face to face than by phone or the web.
Other questions regarding the buildings’ structure were also brought up, such as building upward instead of outward. Rubicon members also asked if a larger building would have extra office space for the city to rent offices out and supplement the income, thereby lessening the tax burden on citizens. Penwell stated this idea would be looked into.
The size of a new city hall is proposed to be about 300,000 square feet. Currently the city has a total of 200,000 square feet, including all of its various locations. Parking is not included in the square footage at this time.
To see a list of Rubicon Society Speakers and upcoming events please go to Rubicon Society of Lane County for more information. Audio recordings of all meetings are also available through the link provided.