RIck Smith of the Gazette reports on his city government blog that dates have been set for three public participation meetings lead by OPN Architects, on the future of flood damaged city facilities, including the former home of City Hall, the Veterans Memorial Building on Mays Island. The meetings will be on June 23, August 18, and October 6; location TBD. I look forward to participating as all concerned Cedar Rapidians should.
The City officially, at this point, has no position on the matter, whether to return to existing facilities or locate elsewhere, possibly in a brand new building. However, as Rick points out in his post, neither Mayor Kay Halloran, Councilman and mayor pro tem Brian Fagan, or City Manager Jim Prosser seem very adamant about returning to the former location. There is a buzz about the sustainability of facilities as the city moves forward, which some use as an argument for a new, more energy-efficient facility.
I am not one to be paranoid, overly-skeptical, or presumptuous of poor decision making about City leaders, and remain generally supportive of their actions and understanding of the current situation the city is facing. I do, however, find it a bit odd, with the issue of sustainability being so important, that returning to the Veterans Memorial Building is not given much consideration. Since the structure is historical, it is required to be renovated. If such an expense will be inevitably required, it would be much more economical – and environmentally sustainable – to return City Hall to where it has been the past 80 years. What could be more sustainable than reusing an existing building? With brand new mechanic and electric systems the building could become much more energy efficient than previously and the City could renovate current space into contemporary office and meeting space that a modern municipal government demands.
Renovating and reusing the space the City already has would not only be more environmentally friendly, but also politically. Despite arguments about long-term energy savings with a new or different city facility (which wouldn’t necessarily be the case), getting the City back into City Hall makes sense now and would be a major PR boost for city leaders, who have not fared well in the public eye since the flood. Renovation of the VMC could be completed much sooner than a brand new facility – extending the City’s need for temporary facilities not centrally located.
Additionally, I believe it’s the City’s responsibility to the community to make sure this architecturally and historically significant building doesn’t go sitting vacant and underutilized for years to come. The building is an icon of the city; it makes Cedar Rapids unique, unites the east and west, and symbolizes our civic pride.
City Hall should return to Veterans Memorial Building on Mays Island. It could be done in a timely manner and makes the most environmental, social, and economic sense. That is my position and why I plan to participate in the public forum.