The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

One argument for “co-location” in new public buildings: ‘Getting people to the right parking lot’

In City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser on February 10, 2009 at 9:26 am

One of the big questions that local taxpayers will face later this year is this one: Do you want to build brand-new public buildings to replace flood-damaged ones or not?

City Hall, along with Linn County and the Cedar Rapids school district, is preparing a six-month-or-so public participation process to take public input on what to build or not to build.

All three central administrative buildings were hit by the flood: City Hall on May’s Island; the county’s Administrative Office Building, across from the Penford Products plant on First Street SW; and the school district’s Educational Service Center on Second Avenue SW.

Camp Dresser & McKee, a consultant for the city, detailed last week what a new Community Services Center might include. SEE

Such a center might be a single building or a campus of buildings with space to house the functions that had been in the three flood-damaged administrative buildings.

A second city consultant, Sasaki Associates Inc., last week said that one place such a Community Services Center might go is on the west side of the river somewhere between the river and Interstate 380.

Proponents of such a center note that it would be more sensible for the public to find and a more efficient place for the government entities to deliver services.

One frequent example often cited is that people no longer would show up at City Hall and be told to go to the Public Works Building to get a building permit. Or they wouldn’t show up at the county building to see the assessor and be told that the county assessor is there but the city assessor is in the city’s office over at Public Works.

The idea behind the Community Services Center is “to get everyone to the right parking lot.”

Such a “co-location” of services also could have common spaces shared by the three entities: a lunch room, for instance, or even a public meeting space that the City Council, Board of Supervisors and school board all could use.

Another proposed new building is called the Community Operations Center. SEE

This would be a facility in which the public didn’t need to use much. It would house the city’s streets, sewer and garbage operations and also could house the fleet maintenance operations of city, county and school district.

One idea is that it would be located at the city’s existing Public Works Building, 1201 Sixth St. SW.

A third new public building –- a Community Safety Training Center — might be located at Kirkwood Community College. That’s at least one idea, Police Chief Greg Graham has said.

It would have classrooms, a fire tower for firefighter training, indoor and outdoor firing ranges and driving courses. SEE

A joint safety training center also could include a joint communications dispatch center, an idea which holds out the prospect that one day the city and county might actually combine their dispatch services.

One skeptic of the public participation process has been Pete Welch, chairman of the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission. The commission operates the city’s Veterans Memorial Building that houses City Hall.

A new Community Services Center would mean that city government would not return to City Hall, and Welch has been displeased because he says that he and the commission have not been involved in much of the discussion to date. At one point, Welch said city leaders write a script, know the ending and then conduct a public participation process to get there.

City Manager Jim Prosser dismisses such a notion.

“When you are making these big decisions on these facilities, you need to get public feedback,” Prosser told The Gazette editorial board last week. “So we’ll have a public participation process.

“I know people struggle with this idea, but when you do that, you really have to start that process with the idea that you just have to trust the process and not know what the outcome is or not have a favorite son in that outcome. You just have to let it go. Whether there will be co-location or not, I don’t know. You just got to let it go. And if it makes sense, it will show. And if it doesn’t, it will show that, too.”

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