Last week FEMA officially decided the City of Cedar Rapids, not the Veterans Memorial Commission, will be the recipient of $20 million plus in federal funds to repair the flood damaged Veterans Memorial Building on Mays Island, which housed City Hall since its construction in 1927. Since I worked with the Veterans Memorial Commission at the building the past three summers and through the flooding, I’ve heard the argument from both sides. The Veterans Memorial Commission acts as the building’s landlord, which City Hall occupied “free of charge” without paying rent, but the Commission itself is a city department.
The building was constructed as a memorial to veterans and to house offices and meeting space for veterans groups, the Coliseum, Armory in the basement, and one floor for City Hall temporarily. According to veterans, City Hall was only intended to be in the building for the first five years before finding a new permanent location. That never happened, and since then, city offices expanded to most floors in the building.
Recently the City began a six to nine month public input process regarding a possible new shared facility with the public school district, currently operating out of a trailer village by Kingston Stadium. The original thought of a co-location included Linn County as well, but they declined to participate in order to move forward with repairing the County Administrative Office Building. To me, it seems silly for the City to be spending this amount of time to study a co-location with only the school district.
Since the Veterans Memorial Building is historical, it is required to be repaired, so the City might as well use space they already have available. Moving mechanical and electric equipment to space on the second floor would minimize damage from possible future flooding, and the basement levels could remain essentially unfinished as they are now gutted. City Hall, Veterans Memorial Building, where it stands is significant to the city’s history and identity. Centrally located, it is symbolic of the compromise between the east and west and unites all four quadrants of the city.
I stopped by the building this week to see the guys from the summer. Clean up work is finished and nothing but bare structure remains in the basement. Interior walls were removed on the mezzanine level so it is open to the basement from one side of the building to the other. The building is essential sitting empty now until work begins on it’s renovation, now one step closer with FEMA’s decision on funding.
> Hundreds of photos, which I helped take, of damage to the building immediately after the flood