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

Archive for May 28th, 2009|Daily archive page

Building new or renovating flood-damaged public buildings? Linn’s Barron weighs in on the S word — sustainability

In City Hall, Linn County government on May 28, 2009 at 8:23 am

Advocates for returning city government to the flood-damaged and iconic Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island might want to talk to Lu Barron, chairwoman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors.

On June 23, the city of Cedar Rapids will begin the first of a series of open houses in what surely will be a well-attended public participation process to help the City Council decide the future of the city’s flood-damaged buildings.

Those buildings include the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall, library, Public Works Building and the existing federal courthouse, which the city is slated to take control of once the new federal courthouse opens in the fall of 2012.

One word that will be tossed around as much as any is “sustainability.” In this context, sustainability is the notion that the city should renovate or build new with an eye to energy efficiency and other considerations that help lower a building’s operating costs over time.

It’s not been uncommon for the city officials and City Council members to toss the word “sustainability” around over the last year in a way that leaves the impression that building new buildings is the best way to achieve sustainability.

Tell that to Linn County’s Lu Barron.

In a talk with The Gazette editorial board this week, Barron defended the county’s decisions to withdrawn from a joint public participation process with the city and to return to the county’s flood-damaged Administrative Office Building on First Street SW across from the Penford Products plant.

Barron said the county needed to move more quickly than the city in making decisions about the county’s flood-damaged buildings, and she said it made fiscal sense to return to the existing building rather than building something new.

Then she mentioned the S word.

“One of the most sustainable things you can do is to use an existing building,” Barron said.

She said planned renovations to the county’s Administrative Office Building, which include adding a floor to the building, will add 30, 40 or more years to the life of the structure at, perhaps, half the cost of building a new building.

“I think taxpayers want that out of us,” she said.

Barron acknowledged that prior supervisors some years ago purchased land along the Cedar River near the current city police station with an eye to constructing a new county building and abandoning the Administrative Office Building. It makes financial sense now to stay put and remodel the existing building, Barron said.

To be sure, the county’s Administrative Office Building, which Barron said sits outside the 500-year floodplain, has less flood damage than the city’s Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island.

The county, though, has returned to the courthouse and jail on the island.