A bond issue for a new Milford City Hall will be on a special election ballot in February.
A petition circulated Milford last week to allow the city council to put the bond issue to a vote. The council passed a resolution Dec. 5 to call a special election, set for Feb. 13.
The city held a town hall meeting Nov. 28 to educate citizens about the project and offer them a chance to sign the petition, which required signatures from at least 10 percent of Milford residents who voted in the last general election.
City Clerk Jeanne Hoggins said 84 signatures were needed, but 133 had been collected by the following afternoon.
The petition was delivered to Seward County Election Commissioner Sherry Schweitzer, who verified 127 signers as registered voters.
Matt Krause, an architect with Carlson West Povondra Architects of Omaha, presented concept drawings of the new building during the town hall.
The floor plan shows a 5,610-square-foot building that would feature 21 rooms that range from public lobbies and meeting spaces to offices, restrooms, evidence storage and a garage for police vehicles.
The building would be constructed on the currently vacant lot at the northwest corner of First and Walnut streets, with the front public entrance facing First Street.
“We’d treat the building as the front door to Milford. That’s kind of the idea,” Krause said, “to dress the front up a bit to make it welcoming.”
Over the past year, Krause and colleague Jon Carlson worked with city officials to study facility needs and come up with a plan.
“We were initially larger, but we kind of scaled it back to hit that ($800,000) bond number,” Krause said.
One main feature of the plan includes city council chambers, which Krause said could seat a full council and about 25 people for a regular council meeting.
However, the space could also be used for other purposes and could accommodate 40-50 people depending on the furniture arrangement.
Storage space within the building could be turned into office space in the future if the city continues to grow and additional staff is needed.
The plan also includes a barrier between city staff and the public for security.
The city clerk and police chief’s offices will have a direct line-of-sight view to the front office and lobby for additional security monitoring.
The architects originally designed a basement underneath the new building, but it was removed from the concept because of cost and concerns about keeping it free of moisture.
Instead, a portion of the building will have reinforced walls and ceiling to create a “hardened space” or storm shelter.
“We’re really trying to keep the square footage down,” Krause said, “because that’s the main driver of cost.”
Parking will be added along Walnut Street and in the back of the building.
Why not fix City Hall?
According to a document handed out at the town hall meeting, the current City Hall was built in the late 1800s.
The building “is in need of extensive repairs” the document said, as determined by a structural engineering study conducted in 2006.
The engineer’s report stated masonry walls would need to be replaced because moisture has caused so much damage over the years.
A follow-up structural analysis in 2014 added replacing the roof to the list of repairs that would need to be done.
The roof’s membrane has been torn for years, so leaks are frequent over the main office and in the attached garage. Window framing has rotted and the front window pane is falling out of place.
Roofers will no longer patch the roof, and it would cost about $30,000 for a new one, not counting structural work beneath the surface.
Those reports are available to the public on the city’s website at www.milfordne.gov or at City Hall.
Earlier this year, three types of fungi were found growing in the building, including black mold, which may be linked to health problems.
Krause said the building is just too old to fix.
“That building has reached its end of use,” he said.
Krause said the estimated cost to “rebuild” the current building is between $350,000 and $500,000.
“It’s half the size of the new one, and that doesn’t bring it up to code,” he said.
He said every interior wall would have to be rebuilt, and plumbing and electrical would have to be redone.
It would be difficult to bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements because of the location of the vaults inside the building.
“In our opinion and in the city’s opinion, it just did not make sense to pursue that,” Krause said.
Carlson said the city could end up spending much more than $500,000 before all is said and done, and the cost comparison for each end result had been considered.
“There is a line there, and you reach it and it’s not worth it anymore,” Carlson said.
What will happen to the current building?
Milford City Council member Dan Kral spoke at the town hall about the plans for the current City Hall building.
“About four years ago, we received a bid of $85,000 to take down Hill’s (Country Inn, an empty building to the east of City Hall) and the city office,” Kral said.
At that time, the city planned to rebuild in the same location.
Then, Heath Yeackley, who owns the empty lot at First and Walnut where the new building would go, offered to make a trade.
The city entered into a purchase agreement with Yeackley that, if the bond passes, the city will purchase Yeackley’s lot for $75,000 and Yeackley will take ownership of the Hill’s Country Inn and City Hall buildings.
The agreement stipulates that Yeackley will demolish both buildings within a year of the purchase becoming final and the city will no longer be liable for that property.
That will create two new lots available for commercial buildings.
“It saved us $10,000. I think it was a great deal for the city,” Kral said.
In the mean time…
Since mold was found in City Hall, employees will temporarily relocate to the Webermeier Building. This includes the police department as well.
The anticipated moving date is Dec. 6.
The city council has not formally discussed what its next step will be if the bond issue does not pass.