The effort to build a new downtown civic center stalled this week after a drama-filled City Council debate over a trio of objections.
The most heated discussion concerned a plan to move the library to the city's Tech Center on Sand Creek Road while the Civic Center and the new library on Oak Street are built. The current library will be demolished to help make room for the new city hall, parking structure and community center that are part of the Civic Center plan. The proposed time line has the library moving back downtown in 2011, after about 16 months at its Sand Creek location.
I do not want to move the library twice, Mayor Bob Taylor emphatically told the council. There has to be a better way.
Consultant Jim Wyrick of LPA Associates said the possibility of moving the library into a portion of the Oak Street building it will ultimately occupy had been studied. The lack of sprinklers and the impacts on the library from the Civic Center construction across the street were among the reasons his firm was recommending the move to the Tech Center, but the biggest concern was uncertainty about the construction problems that could be encountered remodeling the 60-year-old building. During the study, the discovery of a load-bearing wall in an unexpected location had shown that there could well be other, similar surprises that would significantly delay the rest of the Civic Center project should the library's move from its present location be hampered.
Taylor, however, was adamant, and expressed the fear that once the library had been moved to Sand Creek, other delays to the Civic Center might mean it would never return to the downtown.
Taylor was joined in his vote against the authorization to proceed with the move by Councilmen Erick Stonebarger and Brandon Richey, each of whom objected for different reasons. Stonebarger said he liked the plan, but felt the entire $72 million Civic Center project was going too fast, given the uncertainty of the current economy.
I think we are forging forward without any idea of where the light is at the end of the tunnel, he said. I have a real problem forging ahead without having a real strong idea of our revenue.
Richey also said he supports the project, but he wants a mechanism put in place that would give local contractors preference in securing the work. It's a deal-breaker for me unless it can be an integral part of the Civic Center plan to make local jobs, he said.
Councilmen Chris Becnel and Bob Brockman supported not only the library move, but three other Civic Center items before the council: the hiring of a construction management firm for the project for $2.3 million; acceptance of the proposed design for the fountain and trees for the Civic Center Plaza; and endorsement of the City Park Master Site Plan.
Other than the first $280,000 of the construction manager's contract, the votes did not call for any spending. The current time line calls for the project to go out to bid and for the financing options to be studied between now and the end of the year. Decisions on how much of the project would be built, and when, would be made in late 2008 or early 2009.
Becnel and Brockman both said they saw positive economic signs Becnel pointed to a report that shows Brentwood real estate sales have climbed each of the last four months, more than doubling in April over March (from 45 to 93). Brockman said his engineering company was beginning to have difficulty hiring workers to catch up on a work backlog because of increased competition in the labor market. Both said the facts supported Wyrick's belief that now was a good time to go out to bid in an environment that would result in the best prices.
We've analyzed this and analyzed this and analyzed this, a clearly frustrated Becnel said. I'm getting tired of all the doom and gloom. He added that all the council members had often expressed faith in city staff, but they were not demonstrating that faith if they would not accept its recommendation to move forward on the four items.
As each of the items was brought forward, Stonebarger and Richey both voted no on all of them. Taylor, whose yes vote helped pass three, voted no on the library move, sending it to defeat. Because the timing and financing of the entire project was prepared with an eye to moving the library in the early stages, the 3-2 vote effectively prevented anything from moving forward despite the other approvals.
We've just shut down the Civic Center project, Becnel said. I can't believe something as little as a library is screwing up the whole project which includes city hall, the community center, parking structure, the new City Park, downtown streetscape and infrastructure improvements, as well as Summerset Park and the senior center at the aquatic center (which are tied in to the project financially).
Amid palpable tension in the chambers, Taylor said, I don't want to stop the entire project and, after a brief recess, he made a motion to reconsider the previous vote. (City legal guidelines allow such a reconsideration if a motion is made by one of the members of the prevailing majority in the previous vote.) Taylor's motion passed 3-2, Stonebarger and Richey opposed.
Brockman then made a motion that directed staff to revisit the library move and return with a presentation in two weeks, so everybody understands what their decisions are costing us. The motion passed 3-2, with Stonebarger and Richey dissenting.
Following the meeting, Wyrick said that current analysis showed the two-move scenario could be between $500,000 and $750,000 cheaper than the one-move option. (Even the one-move plan would result in a temporary situation for the library. More staff than can be temporarily accommodated in the Tech Center would need to be relocated before the full, new library could be built.) The one-move option would also result in an eight- to 10-month delay in the entire project, plus any unforseen delays due to the building's age and construction.
Richey said city staff had made a tactical error by placing too many complex, distinct topics into one resolution. He said he thought the quickest way to get the project back on track was to institute his preferential-hiring plan, as he had no other problems with the project and would absolutely be willing to back it. He had already begun researching similar policies in other communities, and thought a Brentwood version could be accomplished in a couple of months, no problem.