August 20, 2007

Many Montrose residents want to scale back city's plans for new hall

Most acknowledge new city hall is needed, but want less extravagant plans; to vote on project

By Lynda Jensen

About 60 vocal residents turned out to discuss plans by the City of Montrose to build a new city hall building at an open house hosted by the city Wednesday.

Several took issue with the city over a variety of the plan’s aspects, including the size and cost of the project, which was perceived as being more extravagant than needed.

Residents were also unhappy about the possible lack of a vote over the project, but Council Member Sharon Knodel said that this hasn’t been decided. “No decision has been finalized yet,” she said.

Nevertheless, that being said, the crowd complimented the four council members who attended the meeting for being accessible and willing to gather feedback, Sharon Knodel, Andy Kauffman, Jeff Petersen, and Mayor Charlie Bush (who arrived from the wake of a relative).

“We are gathering information,” Knodel told the crowd. At the end of the meeting, she said “We heard good thoughts tonight.” She emphasized that the council wanted feedback from the public.

During the meeting, feedback is exactly what was given, although most of it was constructive in nature.

Other concerns included:

• that an 18,000-square foot building is considered unnecessary for city staff the size of Montrose (there are five to six employees who will work in the new building, if built).

The existing building is 3,262 square feet, but the city has been forced to rent the community center for meetings because the previous chamber space is too small. The old council chamber was converted into office space and a conference room.

In addition, there have been issues with mold and indoor air quality at the old building. The city has had mold removed in the past, and more has been found.

The new building is supposed to reflect a positive image for the City of Montrose and contains city council chambers that would be available to the public, along with a proposed emergency management system area.

However, the building plans call for 10-foot ceilings in the council chambers, and a room shaped like an arc, which was deemed unneccessary by many.

Overall, there were numerous references by the crowd to the sheer size of the project, with it being called the “Taj Mahal,” or an “empire” building on a number of occasions, both by average onlookers as well as those staunchly against the project.

Several people in the crowd, some of whom work for engineering firms, said that the building design, because it contains arcs and not basic square construction, is costing more than it should. Many suggested the building should be square.

The fact that two showers were included in the project, which were included for EMS needs, also attracted attention.

• according to the crowd, the cost of the project, estimated at $2.5 million, is not supportable in light of the economic downturn.

Some residents were unhappy with overly positive growth projections in the brochure composed by the city (printed by Herald Journal), which were based on the boom in 2005.

“In 2005, it looked good, but it’s (the growth) gone,” one attendee said. He cited pending higher gas taxes. “There’s no jobs here,” he said, noting that most people drive to work.

• Residents also did not care for the makeup of the original committee, which was formed when there was a lack of response from the public in 2005.

The committee is composed of Fire Chief Mike Marketon, Mayor Charlie Nelson, City Administrator Barb Swanson, and Deputy Clerk Wendy Manson.

It was noted that the latter two lived out of town and didn’t pay taxes toward the project.

• the crowd voiced a concern that the project is a “train that has already gone down the track,” since the city has already paid $100,000 in architect and engineering fees to prepare plans for the building. The plans are in the final stage and ready to be bid.

However, Knodel said that changes could be made to revise the plans based on input. Also, the city found itself in the awkward position of being unable to offer real figures about the project because bids had not been awarded yet.

City council is looking for feedback

The city is looking for additional feedback, along with those who voiced concerns at the meeting. Contacts are the following: Mayor Charlie Nelson’s e-mail is cnelson@montrose-mn.com, Cindy Beaton’s e-mail is cbeaton@montrose-mn.com, Jeff Peterson’s e-mail is jpeterson@montrose-mn.com, Sharon Knodel’s is sknodel@montrose-mn.com, and Andy Kauffman’s akauffman@montrose-mn.com.

Want to talk about it? See the Montrose blog at www.hjblogs.com/montrose

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