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New site for city hall?

SOLON– To most Solon council members and the mayor, it’s an opportunity too unique to pass up.
The City of Solon is at least considering the purchase of the Brosh Chapel and Community Center on South Cedar Street for use as city offices and a community center.
With the $1.3 million price tag would come the building, built in 2003, as well as the parking lot across Cedar Street to the west.
“It’s a package deal,” said council member Brad Kunkel. “We get offices, it’s room for growth and it’s also the opportunity to use the downstairs for however we decide.”
“The location at the end of Main Street, it’s just ideal,” noted council member Cami Rasmussen.”
The possible purchase of the building was on the agenda for discussion at the May 18 regular session, but council members also discussed the Brosh property and three other potential land purchases during a special session April 27.
But at last week’s meeting, the one piece of land mentioned was the possible future site of a Solon City Hall.
The ground level of the Brosh building includes a lobby area, chapel, a small kitchenette and a children’s room, as well as a display room and a deck that extends over the back parking lot to a view of a landscaped pond.
The handicapped-accessible community center on the lower level has an oversized kitchen, a walk-in cooler and can comfortably seat 250 people.
The consensus of the council members and Mayor Rick Jedlicka was to take a serious look at the property, and to take the pulse of the public during a June 8 forum.
Council member Sue Ballantyne, however, felt like things were going a little too quickly.
“Well, I don’t think it’ll probably surprise anybody that I have a few concerns,” Ballantyne told the other council members.
When most residents of Solon talk about a community center, she said, they’re referring to an indoor recreational facility like North Liberty’s. “That’s what they want,” she noted.
And if the city doesn’t plan on making the community room available at no charge, it really won’t be providing anything to the public that isn’t already there.
She said she would prefer not to rush ahead on spending $1.3 million without having explored all the options, including the possibility of combining the city offices with the library.
Additionally, she said, the state is looking at cutting commercial property taxes and the city has just finished a tight budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
But the value of obtaining a property that might serve the future needs of the city for decades to come has pushed a new city hall to the top of the priority list.
“It caught all of us off guard,” Mayor Rick Jedlicka said.
According to Jedlicka, the current owner of the facility, Matt Linn, contacted Jedlicka to see if there was any interest on the city’s part. The building is a little too big for current needs, but Linn would relocate within Solon if the city is inclined to pursue a purchase, Jedlicka noted.
The lower level community room is leased back to the original owners, Terry and Christine Brosh, and events are booked into 2012, the mayor explained. The land behind, which includes a pond and a detention basin, is split into several parcels and the ownership is more complex, but could be considered as an area for future expansion.
There would be three ways to finance a purchase of this size, indicated City Administrator Cassandra Lippincott. If the city were to issue general obligation (GO) bonds, a referendum would be required and 60 percent approval would be needed for passage.
The city, could, however, attempt a reverse referendum, she said, declaring the intent to borrow GO bonds and then provide the public a window during which to petition an election on the issue. To do so, the city would have to make a declaration that the purchase would have a positive economic development impact for the community.
The third way would be to pay for the purchase entirely with Tax Increment Finance (TIF) dollars, she said, which would prevent the city from utilizing its debt service levy. Using TIF would not require a public vote on the project.
Currently, the option for pursuing the purchase of the Brosh building is not tied to a specific timeline. If, however, the city decides on a bond issue (or is forced into one), the referendum would need to be submitted to the county by Sept. 23 to appear on the November ballot.
“I understand that economically we’re in a fragile situation,” Jedlicka said. “We’ve got four dollar gas, we have continuing adjustments in the local economy, the state economy, nationally and globally. But as Cami indicated at the previous meeting, financially, the city has probably never been in a better situation to consider something like this than we are right now.”
Making the sale to the public, however, may be more difficult than convincing the majority of the council.
“Is this too much space? Is this too much money?” asked Ballantyne. “We just had a discussion at budget time about salaries, having trouble with salaries, we were having trouble cutting money from the library budget. I heard the comment from council members that the library is growing too fast. Are we growing too fast into a building that’s too big for our needs? You guys don’t want to expand the library because you think it’s growing too fast, but on the flip side you want to a buy a building that will meet our needs 25 or 50 years from now. I don’t see how that kind of all fits together.”
Part of the problem, the mayor responded, was the timing of the opportunity.
“Because this became available, this became an option,” Jedlicka said. “For me, six months ago, I would never have dreamed of that spot, so I was thinking of other spots and we talked about other spots.”
One of the places previously discussed was the library, something Ballantyne brought up Wednesday as an option to investigate. But most council members seemed more in favor of an independent presence for the city’s offices.
Council member Steve Stange said he would prefer not to have the city hall in the lower level of the existing library, while Mayor Jedlicka indicated the front of the upper level would not provide enough space long term.
There are no conceptual plans for a new city hall or a reconstruction of the Brosh building, although Lippincott said later in the week a new municipal building would likely house offices for the city administrator, clerk, public works director and mayor, as well as a new council chamber.
Library Director Kris Brown and Library Board member Ron Herdliska offered to help investigate the possibility of including the city offices at the library, and in the end, Stange suggested the city think about it for a two weeks.
Stange asked City Engineer Dave Schechinger to provide the council with an estimate of current construction costs in order to weigh the price of expansion against the purchase price of the Brosh building.