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

June 23, Aug. 18 and Oct. 6 are three dates for open houses on flood-damaged city buildings: Should city government return to May’s Island among the great questions

In City Hall, Floods on June 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm

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.

  1. “The Culture of Delay”. We must end this as soon as possible. One Councilperson was quoted previously in this blog calling my position “status quo”. Well, fair is fair, and although I can not quote Shakespeare or Twain as proficiently as them, I can state this for the record “End The Culture of Delay”. Remove these people from office in free and fair elections (for which I, and other combat veterans defended , only to be insulted by the status quo quote later on). Now they backtrack about the Veteran’s Memorial. Did they think we would forget?

  2. I am not an enormous critique of the City government and understand things will not be fixed and return to normal right away. Much of the slow process is out of the city’s control (FEMA, federal aid, etc.) that many local critics don’t seem to understand. However I am concerned the City leader’s focus on sustainability of future facilities is futile, without anyone seeming to seriously consider returning to the Veterans Memorial Building – which would be the most economic and environmentally sustainable option. Since the building is required to be fixed up, the City should take advantage of this opportunity to renovate the building into modern, suitable office space. New mechanical / electrical systems and perhaps better insulation with renovations could significantly reduce the current building’s energy costs. Sustainability is grounded in reduce, reuse, recycle. What could be more sustainable and efficient than reusing a building we already have?

    more thoughts:

  3. I agree.

  4. While neither Shakespear nor Twain,in the British political satire show “Yes Minister” the purpose of government inquiry was not to actually find new information or solicit input, but to advance the government’s agenda. The procedure goes like this; the government establishes a process that from all appearances is independent, but has been carfully vetted and controlled to reach a predetermined outcome. The inquiry makes recommendations, several of which are unpopular and contversial. The government officals are publicy dismayed by the findings, but resolve to do the right thing and carry out the independent recommendations. And so the government acquires the opportunity to carry out its unpopular agenda, while shifting the political fallout from the government officals to an inquiry process which has been disbanded.

    Setting up a process that is actually independent, with unpredictable results, is exceptionally risky from the government’s point of view. A true independent process could completely derail the government’s plans – they would be better off with no such showing at all. Some groups have a way of being heard, with or without the government’s consent and this current regime has not exactly demonstrated the ability to “manage the message”.

    They should pray that this current British satire we are in the midst of does not become a Greek tragedy.

  5. Much is out of the City’s control. You are correct Brady. Not everything. I predict certain facts will start to come out once we begin the campaign in full. Oh by the way, I think we lost another Mayoral canidate today. It will hit the news shotly, probably rigtt after Rick reads this and makes some telephone calls. It’s looking like a two person race. It is shaping up to be The Culture of Delay -v- New Leadership.

  6. According to wikipedia, “Tragedy” is derived from the ancient Greek, Trag & Odia which means “Goat song” where people dressed in goat costumes would dance around the anicent god figures while they played out their demise on stage. It was a catharsis for the public to be entertained by the suffering of others, most notably the elites and the gods themselves.

    The tragedy as an art form reached its highest pinnacle under Shakespeare in Elizabethan England, and perhaps in his work HAMLET. These works are considered timeless for a reason; A certain towering building over the downtown skylike filled with political intrigue and plots as Castle Elsinore anyone?

  7. I don’t know about all of that, but on the Ave, we have a saying: “He who eats the last prune dumpling shall indeed know truth”. Truth tellers, that’s what ole Jimmy P needs down there at City hall North (actually up there from the Ave, and a wee bit to the east to borrow an ole potatoe eater way of puttin it).

  8. When it comes time for election remember that Fagan was NOT man enough to come out and say anything about it being a good idea to return City Hall to the Veterans’ Memorial Building.Do these people have something against the veterans?They are sure acting it.Would be interesting to see how many of them served in the military and?or lost someone in any of the wars.
    Let’s just get rid of them all.

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