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

Posts Tagged ‘Lu Barron’

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In a talk with The Gazette editorial board this week, Barron defended the county’s decisions to withdrawn from a joint public participation process with the city and to return to the county’s flood-damaged Administrative Office Building on First Street SW across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

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City, county contributing to one private-sector effort on flood recovery while private sector contributes to second effort in City Hall

In City Hall, Linn County government on March 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm

The private sector’s interest in helping with flood recovery got another boost this week.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors has agreed to contribute $20,000 to the Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp., an upstart private-sector initiative created in Cedar Rapids to help with local flood recovery.

For one, the Linn County board’s contribution should help comfort Cedar Rapids City Private-sector help on flood recovery: City, county contributing to one business-led Council member Chuck Wieneke, who has suggested that the council take back its $50,000 grant to the EPRC if the county wasn’t willing to contribute.

Earlier, the county board had tabled the matter.

On Tuesday, Lu Barron, chairwoman of the Linn board, said Tuesday that the board first wanted to get a better feel for the EPRC’s plans and mission before it contributed to the effort. On a unanimous 5-0 vote, the board now is satisfied, Barron said.

The public support for the EPRC makes it a private-public partnership, though the push for its creation came from some local business leaders displeased with the pace of flood recovery in the city. John Smith, president/CEO of trucking firm CRST International Inc., is chairman of the four-person EPRC board.

The EPRC’s director is Doug Neumann, who also holds down a post with the Downtown District.

In the last two weeks, the EPRC’s still-new role got pushed into the background a bit as yet a second, private-sector initiative surfaced in hopes of helping City Hall better deal with the city’s flood recovery. In this second effort, which is being promoted by Rockwell Collins, local business interests have offered to pay to support a new city flood-recovery manager inside of City Hall not outside of City Hall where the EPRC is operating.

Fund-raising for the City Hall position reportedly is underway even as the city and now Linn County are spending public dollars to pay for the first private-sector initiative, the EPRC.

The EPRC’s Neumann and the EPRC board have said that the EPRC will be out chasing federal grants and private grants that the city and county are not.

“I sincerely appreciate that the county supervisors have recognized the value EPRC can have in helping find funds for flood recovery and in helping accelerate progress on the many redevelopment projects we need to revitalize this great community,” Neumann said Tuesday of the county board’s funding support.

Linn County’s Barron said the EPRC and the private-sector-supported flood coordinator inside City Hall may have efforts that overlap a bit, but she said she sees the two positions as working together.

Linn supervisor Linda Langston and Monica Vernon, Cedar Rapids council member, are on the four-member EPRC board of directors.

Brand-new congressional ‘earmark’ of $950,000 is intended to get the long-delayed Highway 100 Extension finally built

In City Hall, Jim Prosser, Linn County government on March 14, 2009 at 6:27 am

Cedar Rapids would already have a dazzling new $200-million federal courthouse and a new, $100-million-plus, 7-mile highway extending Highway 100 from Edgewood Road west and south to Highway 30 if only the wants of nearly every community leader and local elected official was what mattered.

Both projects have languished nearly a decade or more.

On Friday, word arrived that the Highway 100 project has benefitted from what came to the rescue of the courthouse project early last fall –- a federal “earmark,” one of those special insertions into big congressional spending bills that are often pooh-poohed but much beloved at the local level.

In the just-passed congressional Omnibus budget bill, Congress has earmarked $950,000 for the Highway 100 Extension, which Cedar Rapids City Manager Jim Prosser and Lu Barron, chairwoman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, on Friday said is a vital boost for the highway project.

The money will come to the city of Cedar Rapids to begin the process of buying up property for the highway’s right of way, Prosser and Barron said.

The key task now, the two said, is to get the Highway 100 Extension back into the Iowa Transportation Commission’s five-year construction plan, which is where it needs to be for the highway to get built.

Prosser said the congressional earmark will get the project into that crucial Transportation Commission lineup.

The project had been in that lineup at the start of the decade and the project had a champion for it on the Transportation Commission, Cedar Rapidian Tom Aller, the Alliant Energy executive.

In fact, the highway would already be in place had proponents of the highway project, including Cedar Rapids City Hall, not been outmaneuvered by project opponents.

Those opponents fit into two groups: Those concerned about Linn County’s Rock Island Botanical Preserve, which sits along the route of the highway extension; and the developers of a higher-end housing development near the proposed highway.

The federal highway-building bureaucracy requires that a project take steps to make sure it does not damage the environment. And after all these years, the Highway 100 Extension project has cleared the environmental hurdles.

What the backers of the project had not foreseen was the imagination of developers, James Properties Inc., and the ability of a non-elected Linn County Conservation Board to join forces with them to block the project.

Back in early 2002, as the Highway 100 Extension project was working its way through the required federal environmental assessment project, the developers donated pieces of land with no development potential to the county’s Rock Island Botanical Preserve so that the preserve now extended into the alignment of the highway.

The Conservation Board gushingly accepted the donation.

It took several years for the terms of Conservation Board members to end and new appointees by the Linn County supervisors to take their places before the Conservation Board was willing to allow a right-of-way through the donated land for the highway.

By the way, it was back in the early fall of 2008 that the federal “earmark” phenomenon came to the rescue of the downtown courthouse project. That happened after the June flood damaged the existing federal courthouse here and helped Iowa’s congressional delegation to make the case to insert $182-million request into a funding bill to get a new courthouse built.

Construction will start within weeks at the site between the Cedar River and Second Street SE and Seventh and Eighth avenues SE. (First Street SE will dead end at Seventh Avenue SE for the new courthouse, and on Friday, First Street SE was closed off. Drive down there, and get a feel for the new traffic pattern.)