Three government buildings damaged in last June’s flood sit on May’s Island in the middle of the Cedar River.
Why is it that the Linn County Courthouse and the Linn County Jail are now back in business, while the Veterans Memorial Building that houses City Hall remains empty with no plans for now to reoccupy it?
That is the question that Pat Reinert, a member of the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission and an assistant federal prosecutor in Cedar Rapids, wanted City Manager Jim Prosser to answer at the commission’s meeting Monday evening.
The answer provided by Prosser was this:
The city isn’t Linn County. The city has more than 10 times as much flood damage to its public buildings and facilities than the county. More damage means longer, more complicated negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the amount of damages that FEMA will pay to fix the building.
To this, commission member Gary Grant stressed to Prosser that the commission does not care if city government intends to return to the building.
“We think the building has great potential even if the City Council doesn’t come back,” Grant told Prosser.
All the commission wants is to be included in the planning for the building’s future, Grant and Reinert said.
This is one of the central rubs about the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall that only has become exacerbated as the months have passed.
The City Council has never expressed any enthusiasm for returning to the building.
Prosser on Monday evening reminded the commission members that the City Council is embarking on a several-month public participation process to determine the futures of several of the city’s flood-damaged public buildings. Much of the talk over many months now has been about “co-locating” city, county and school functions in the same buildings. The county, which seemingly had the most potential synergies with the city, dropped out of the process a few months ago, and the City Council has used the word co-locate less if at all recently.
Prosser emphasized last night that he and the City Council go into the public participation process without any idea if city government will return to the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall or not.
But as he and several council members repeatedly mention, one important factor will be the life-cycle costs of buildings. This often has seemed a euphemism in favor of building a new, “greener,” more efficient building than the existing City Hall.
Last week, though, council member Tom Podzimek said no one was going into the decision-making over buildings with any preconceived notions. At the same time, council member Kris Gulick said he wanted to make sure that the cost to retrofit existing buildings was factored into any analysis.
Monday evening’s commission meeting was eye-opening because it showed just how great a gulf exists between the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission of volunteer appointees and the paid machinery of city government.
Prosser, Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, and John Levy, a city consultant who is helping direct the city’s plans for its flood-damaged buildings, came armed with much information that, surprisingly, eleven months after the flood, was news to the commission. It was as if the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall, the management of which the commission is responsible for, was a great mystery and Prosser, Drew and Levy were sharing some of the secrets.
Commission members were a bit testy and eager to let Prosser know that it was time to get moving on repairing the building.
In fact, on its own, the commission has been trying to hustle around to establish temporary electrical service to the building just so government –even if FEMA was paying the bill — could stop paying huge bills to run generators.
The city can’t just do nothing and let the building continue to “degrade,” Reinert said at one point.
“Quite frankly, it’s driving me insane,” he said.
The exercise in establishing temporary electrical service at a cost of about $9,000 has proven a bit of a comedy: Prosser and Drew said written bids weren’t used, and Drew explained that two commission-employed maintenance workers had their city-issued purchase cards revoked because they attempted to pay for services before they were provided against city policy. All of this is getting cleaned up.
Commission chairman Pete Welch listed on the commission agenda all the special state grants that the city secured for other local buildings: $5 million for the library; $10 million for a new human services building; $10 million for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library; $5 million for Options of Linn County; $5 million for the Paramount Theatre; $5 million for the Public Works Building; $16 million for the downtown steam issue. And zero for the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall.
Commission member Gary Craig acknowledged that he had seen a city list that had sought $5 million for City Hall, but somewhere along the line that amount failed to make the final list.
Reinert said the building might get more backing if it is called its real name, the Veterans Memorial Building.
The commission noted that $118 million in state IJOBs funds are available for other public projects on a competitive basis. Prosser said the city intended to present plenty of proposals to try to win some of the money.
This is “a really critical city facility,” the city manager said of the Veterans Memorial Building.