On March 29, 1953 Juneau Mayor Waino Hendrickson welcomed hundreds of Juneau residents as they came to tour their new City Hall for the first time. In addition to offices for the mayor, city clerk, assessor, city engineer, and director of the city’s public works, the new building boasted a 12-cell jail, city police, magistrate’s court and a spacious city council chamber. A five-office suite hosted the city’s health department.
Juneau had a bustling population of nearly 6,000. Douglas, with its own local government and city hall, numbered 700. It was another 10 years before a third local government, the Greater Juneau Area Borough, was formed. And it wasn’t until 1970 that these three government units were unified into the City and Borough of Juneau and their functions consolidated in our present city hall.
Juneau’s population has increased five-fold in the intervening years. Several city departments have had to be relocated because the once-spacious offices have long since been unable to accommodate all critical governmental functions. In addition to offices owned by the city (like police, fire and public works), we pay an estimated $800,000 in annual leased space.
The city undertook a detailed evaluation of suitable sites throughout the Juneau area and examined repurposing some existing structures in the process. The Assembly weighed numerous factors including building costs, duration of construction, proximity to the downtown core, relative design constraints in new construction versus adaptation in existing space, disruption of governmental operations during construction, ability to incorporate energy efficiencies, and parking, among others. Here the balance tipped in favor of a new facility located in the Aak’w Village District.
I appreciate the concerns of many of those who have reservations about this course, but find no common ground with some who reject every proposed public building as either beyond our means or who fashion the argument as an either/or proposition against a road out of Juneau, solving our perennial shortage of housing or some other real or imagined need.
Our current City Hall is a venerable building and, having served 15 years in it, I have an abiding fondness for it. But when I weigh the cost of renovation against the advantages of a purpose-built facility that meets latest standards, has a life span of multiple generations, and can better accommodate Juneau’s long-term growth, I will support the bond proposition on the Oct. 4, 2022 municipal ballot. I urge you to do the same.
• Bruce Botelho served as Juneau’s mayor between 1988-91 and 2003-2012. He resides in Douglas with his family.