City officials report that they will hold three public open houses over a three-and-half-month period to get the public’s input on what the city should do with its key flood-damaged buildings.
The open houses will be held June 23, Aug. 18 and Oct. 6.
The dates were noted Wednesday during an hour-long discussion between city officials and The Gazette’s editorial board.
In the session, Mayor Kay Halloran and Brian Fagan, council member and mayor pro tem, insisted that the council and city officials have no “preconceived” notion of what the future holds for the city’s public buildings going into the public input process.
At the same time, the city will use a facilities framework, which the council approved earlier this year.
The framework makes a case for the city to consider organizing many of its services into a Community Services Center and a Community Operations Center. The framework also calls for the city to consider opening or building a Public Safety Training Center.
Halloran and Fagan said a Community Services Center – which will be a version of a City Hall — and Community Operations Center – which will be a version of a Public Works Building — do not need to be new buildings. They may be existing buildings, they said.
In response to several questions about the flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island, which has housed City Hall since the 1920s, neither the mayor and Fagan nor City Manager Jim Prosser and four other city officials at the meeting expressed any sentiment for returning city government to the building. It wasn’t as if they opposed the idea. But no one used the time to promote the idea.
In response to one question, Prosser repeated what he has said in the past: the Veterans Memorial Building, like the flood-damaged Paramount Theatre, has historic standing and must be renovated even if the cost of flood insurance for the buildings could be sizable. Prosser said the city is planning to meet with the state insurance commissioner, who has the power to waive flood insurance requirements on the public buildings.
The city officials spent some time, too, talking about the word sustainability when asked if it is possible to make an existing building as “sustainable” as a new building.
In part, the city’s talk about sustainability centers on the cost to operate a building – heating and cooling it, for instance – over the 50 or 100 years that the building will stand.
Fagan also pointed to what he said was a social component of sustainability, which he seems to tie to a building’s usability by the public. This raises the question, can a seven-story or eight-story building be as socially sustainable as a two-story one. The city’s temporary City Hall is in a two-story building in a northeast Cedar Rapids office park.
Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, also pointed to the location of a building and the amount of fuel it might take for people to get to it.
Dan Thies, president of OPN Architects Inc., attended the Wednesday session. OPN has been hired by the city, at a cost of $400,000, to conduct the public participation process on facilities.
Thies said he has staff members at his firm “salivating” over the idea of getting into the Veterans Memorial Building and seeing how it might be reconfigured to function in today’s and tomorrow’s world.
Fagan had noted that it’s not easy to get from the First Avenue side of the building to the Second Avenue side of it.
Among other flood-damaged buildings to be reviewed in the public participation process are the downtown library, the existing federal courthouse and a proposed new community center/recreation center.
The library has sustained more than 50 percent damage, a level of damage that will require the building to be razed and rebuilt in place or elsewhere. The library board wants to build it at another downtown site.
Prosser and the mayor said that the plan remains for the city to take over ownership of the existing, flood-damaged federal courthouse, which the federal government is repairing.
The building also has historic standing, and the plan is for the city’s proposed flood-protection system to protect the building, Prosser and the mayor said.