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City halls future raises questions

To move, to stay or to divide are options

After purchasing the West End Building last year, Lake Oswego city officials moved Parks and Recreation staffers into the vacant building on Kruse Way.

Officials are now wondering if they should move the rest of city hall into the building.

With 89,000 square feet, the West End Building could easily accommodate city hall workers, according to Brant Williams, director of community center development for the city.

'Some remodeling would have to take place, but it is an office building,' said Williams. 'It certainly could house city hall.'

The move is just one of several scenarios the Lake Oswego City Council recently considered during a work session to study deficiencies in several city buildings.

The council toured the city maintenance building on Jean Road and visited Lake Oswego Fire Department's South Shore Fire Station. Both buildings are in need of significant repairs.

But the 21-year-old city hall is the building that most concerns council members and building experts because it houses the police department and the 911 call center and could be vulnerable in an earthquake.

Don Eggleston, CEO of SERA Architects, which did a remediation analysis of city hall earlier this year, said the city should address the risk of having police/911 in the current city hall.

'It's an essential facility that has to be upgraded,' said Eggleston.

The building would not meet the 2003-updated international building code, because its lateral support system would be inadequate to resist earthquake forces.

'It would perform poorly in a seismic event,' according to a report by KPFF Consulting Engineers and SERA.

The report left some members of the council and Mayor Judie Hammerstad dismayed with city hall.

'Twenty-one years is not a long time,' said Councilor John Turchi, referring to the building's age. 'Seems like 21 years ago, people should have known to build something seismically sound, after the Mount St. Helens eruption.'

Eggleston said building codes for earthquakes have become more stringent since city hall was built.

Hammerstad said the building seemed like a quantum leap compared with the prior city hall, which was in the basement of a furniture store.

'There was value engineering,' Hammerstad said, referring to a money-saving analysis that developers and municipalities use to reduce construction costs. 'It did not yield the product it should have.'

'If you build a city hall, it ought to last 100 years,' she added. 'This, unfortunately, is not the symbol we think we deserve.'

Officials looked at the potential of moving city hall temporarily to the West End Building, while a new city hall is built at the A Avenue site.

Another possibility is moving city hall permanently to the West End Building and selling the A Avenue site. Williams said its current market value is about $5.5 million to $6.5 million.

The city does not have cost estimates for incorporating city hall into the West End Building - temporarily or permanently. The building was purchased to house a community center, which could cost $60 million or $70 million for remodeling and adding to.

The city could also remodel city hall. That would cost around $21 million, including the addition of 20 percent more space, and would take about a year and a half.

'It would be a major structural renovation, working with what's there,' said Eggleston.

A new building at the site would be less expensive, about $13.5 million, including the police/911 services.

Eggleston noted that there is no current state or federal requirement to seismically upgrade the building.

Councilor Roger Hennagin said he would be in favor of keeping city hall the way it us for five to eight years, but moving police/911 to a separate site sooner. One possibility, he said, would be to merge police/911 with a newly re-located South Shore Fire Station.

'With all the other capital costs we're facing here in the foreseeable future, I'm prone to delaying action on city hall,' Hennagin said.

Those costs include a new $100 million sewer interceptor line that the state will require of the city.

'My only concern is that, at some point, we'll probably be required by Homeland Security to make our 911 center more fortified,' he said.

The 911 center handles calls for the Lake Oswego, West Linn and Milwaukie police departments as well as the Lake Oswego Fire Department.

Aside from structural issues, city hall is plagued with water seepage issues, causing mold between its exterior skin and the inside walls.

The mold is not a health risk, since it is sealed between the walls, Eggleston said.

But the building's mechanical, electrical and HVAC will need major upgrades or replacement, he said.

'The electrical system is at maximum capacity and the roof is at the end of its useful life,' he said, noting that when city hall was built engineers did not foresee the electrical demands of today's computer systems.

Police Capt. Michael Hammons said most areas of his department are cramped, as hallways have been converted to office space. In his own office, Hammons is blasted with cold air, while nearby offices with windows don't get enough air conditioning.

In addition, Eggleston said the underground parking that police use should have a security gate.

He advised council members not to move the police/911 center to temporary quarters while another building is built. 'That's very expensive, so you only want to move once,' he said.

Hammerstad said she would like to see police and city hall services all in one building.

As officials decide on a fix for city hall, Eggleston said they should consider the fact that construction costs are always creeping up. Because of the escalating costs of steel, concrete and petroleum, he said construction costs are going up about 12 percent a year.

If officials decide to raze the much-maligned building, he said it would take about three days.

'Chop it up, spray some water and take it away,' Eggleston said.