Juneau City Hall on October 24, 2020. At Monday's Public Works and Facilities Committee meeting, members discussed options for moving forward with a new city hall building.  (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

CBJ to consider new city hall locations

Voters will have final say

City hall may be on the move — eventually.

On Monday, the City and Borough of Juneau’s Public Works and Facilities Committee heard a plan to identify potential city hall sites with the goal of putting the question to voters in either the October 2022 or 2023 election. The committee will decide which election cycle makes the most sense at its Aug. 30 meeting.

“A new city hall may not be new construction; the site selection process needs to be robust and inclusive of multiple options,” reads a memo shared with the committee by Katie Koester, engineering and public works director.

CBJ’s current municipal building is 70 years old and needs $6 million in deferred maintenance, according to Koester.

“Add that to the fact that downtown city employees are spread out among four different spaces with an annual rental cost of $750,000 a year and it just makes fiscal sense to consolidate in one space that is efficiently laid out,” she said in the memo. “The public should be able to pay a bill and ask a question about a building permit in one stop. Employees should be able to meet and work collaboratively without adding commute time.”

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New to CBJ, not necessarily new

Koester suggested the city begin identifying sites that may be suitable for the city’s needs, including looking at existing buildings. She outlined a site selection process that includes an online survey circulated by the city and hosted on the city’s website to collect input on location and cost.

She noted that the voluntary survey would not be statistically significant but would likely yield essential insights about the things that are important to the community in the new facility, such as ample parking or using the building as a neighborhood anchor.

The plan called for work throughout the fall to identify potentially suitable locations, gather feedback and develop a shortlist of sites to share with CBJ Assembly members toward the end of the year with a conceptual design to follow in early spring.

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Committee members were warm to the idea of the project but questioned the timeline.

“I’m supportive of this as a goal but have some curiosity about the timing and if it’s too soon in an economic crisis,” said Assembly member Christine Woll, who serves on the committee. “My concern is how the public will receive another big project in this climate, even if it’s a worthwhile project.”

Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale, who chairs the committee, shared the sentiment.

“We are still in a pandemic and we are all tired of it, but we are still there. It worries me to rush a big project while we are still here,” Hale said, suggesting that Koester draft a timeline to add the question to the 2023 municipal ballot for comparison.

Koester said that her team would draft a second timeline for review at the August 30 meeting.

Prior plans

A 2019 proposal to add two floors of office space on top of the downtown Transit Center Parking garage fizzled.

At the time, city planners estimated the project would cost $26.7 million, according to documents in the special projects section of the city’s website. The plan called for the city to sell the current city hall at fair market value to add commercial space to the city center and help fund the construction of the new site.

During the meeting, Koester acknowledged that prior discussions about a new city hall had taken place before her tenure and said she appreciated the input of the committee members.

“There’s a solution out there that can be long-term and cost-effective and for CBJ taxpayers,” Koester said.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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