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Local opinions are divided over Waukesha's plan to either upgrade, replace or relocate city hall.

At two separate meetings last week, downtown business owners and an alderwoman said they did not support rehabilitating the 51-year-old city hall, which officials say needs to be repaired soon.

The city previously hired a consulting firm to analyze various options for the project, which has been discussed for several years. The completed study outlined three possible avenues the city could pursue for creating a new multipurpose municipal center.

The city can either upgrade its current facility, demolish and rebuild it in the same location at 201 Delafield St. or construct a new city hall on one of two other possible locations: vacant land just north of the Fox River downtown, between Bank Street and St. Paul Avenue, or atop the city's Metro Transit Center, 212 E. St. Paul Ave.

A new municipal center would likely combine various city operations into one building, including current city hall functions, the public works department (which currently uses an annex across the street from city hall), and some customer service personnel from the city's water utility, officials and consultants have said.

Whatever the city ultimately decides to do will not be inexpensive. Costs to build a new city hall range from about $18 million to $22 million, and, according to consultants, just remodeling the current facility could cost around $12 million.

Two more public meetings about the project are scheduled.

Public objections

Cost was one of the concerns raised by Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings during a Sept. 6 common council meeting. Aldermen reviewed the options that night, but took no action on them.

Consultants said that, based on an objective review of data, the city should pursue the option to construct a new municipal center on the vacant land just north of the downtown riverwalk, between Waukesha State Bank and the former Hardee's.

That option, according to a study, is the cheapest and could spur ancillary, adjacent development and allow for redevelopment of the current city hall site, they said.

"I think this is premature," Cummings said of the proposals, explaining that she thinks some residents will balk at the idea of footing the bill for the project and move out of the city.

Money was also on the minds of about two dozen downtown business owners and residents who heard about the project Sept. 7. The recommendation for the downtown site was presented at that meeting as well.

Some business owners argued that the money that could be spent on a new city hall should instead be invested in the downtown instead or on other things like deteriorated roads.

"I think they should spend the money elsewhere," said Llazar Konda, co-owner of Meli Bar and Restaurant.

Konda added that he thinks those funds should be used to develop downtown, which he said still has an unjustly flagging reputation.

Waukesha City Administrator Kevin Lahner countered by saying that the tax burden placed on residents for the project will not be as great as some other costs that will soon be realized, such as the increase in water utility rates when the city begins receiving Lake Michigan water as part of its diversion plan.

Open meetings

Lahner also stressed that no decision about the project has been made. He encouraged residents to attend one or more of the upcoming public information meetings.

The remaining meetings are segmented by certain aldermanic districts, but Lahner said anyone can attend any meeting he or she chooses.

Meetings are scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15 at Summit View Elementary School, 2100 Summit Ave., for residents in districts 4, 5, 13, 14 and 15; and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, at Citizens Bank of Mukwonago, 2109 Corporate Drive for residents in districts 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12.

A meeting for residents in districts 1, 2, 3, 8 and 11 at the city's parks, recreation and forestry building, 1900 Aviation Drive, was held Monday night, Sept. 12.

A news release said all the meetings will begin with the same presentation and then allow for questions. City officials and representatives from the consultant team studying the project will be on hand.

Upgrades necessary

Consultants have said that it will be necessary to remodel city hall.

Lahner has said that the building is facing mounting repair costs and has some serious problems with its roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that need to be addressed and will be expensive to fix. The roof and HVAC fixes alone could cost around $1 million, he said.

He added that he doesn't think funneling a lot of money toward those problems is financially responsible if the city does not end up using its current city hall in the long run.

Consultants said various aspects of the facility do not comply with current building code and do not facilitate a "customer-first" model of service. Those concerns align with responses from city employees regarding the current facilities detailed in a 2012 survey conducted by Robert W. Baird & Co.

In the survey, many employees cited the challenges inherent in the facilities. Members of the department of public works cited customer service and interaction, with city hall as the most challenging aspect of its department space. The human resources department cited a small conference room and others cited indoor environmental quality concerns.

Lahner said that the city could talk about the design of the project possibly as early as next year.

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