by Mike Nistler
It appears the City of St. Joseph could soon have a new government center.
On Monday, the city council discussed replacing the present government center, which is badly in need of repair, with a new building that could cost up to $4 million.
The new facility would be located at the location of the current structure. Construction could begin as soon as this fall.
The city council wants to ensure whatever facility is built is useful for years to come and can handle any growth the city may see in the coming decades.
As Mayor Rick Schultz explained, in 2000 the current city offices were purchased from Sentry Bank, allowing the bank to build at its current location. In addition to the purchase price, there was a $900,000 cost to remodel the building.
“This remodeling was done to make it functional but also leave as much in place should the building be sold for a future financial tenant,” Schultz said.
The remodel was not done with a long-term plan or the functional needs of a city in mind, Schultz said.
In 2008, the city undertook a space-needs study for city, public works, park and related footprints, for future planning and growth. At the time, city staff and police-department personnel felt space-constrained.
After Schultz took office, some emphasis was put on a community center. A facilities committee was formed to re-examine the downtown and other city buildings.
The city purchased the building and lot directly north of the current government center to allow for a potential community-center building, which would be connected to the current government center.
The facilities committee, council members and staff recommended keeping the city-government center in downtown, but because of the limited space, a community center would need to be built somewhere else, Schultz said.
“The most recent emphasis has taken more than a year to come to where we are today,” Schultz said, adding this past Monday night’s meeting “was a culmination of all the thoughts, actions, concepts and facts coming to a head on where do we go and how much does it cost?”
Schultz said the new government center comes with some “hard take-aways: In order to make the current site work, including basement remodel, the site must be demolished; the price tag will be big — $4 million to $4.5 million; there is no way to do it in stages, it is an all-or-none proposal.”
Schultz said the facilities committee led by Dale Wick and Renee Symanietz, has been meeting on a regular basis with staff and the design team.
Schultz said his “walking orders” are simple. Make the facility work for the next generation of people who will be using it and do not make the center a “Taj Majal.”
He said he wants to “keep it simple, usable, functional and community friendly, and keep the cost in check.”
“Frankly, the price tag scares me,” Schultz said. “With 44 percent of our tax base being tax-exempt, the burden for most of this type of capital investment is borne by the residents. So, we will go over the financials with a fine-tooth comb before any decision to actually construct is agreed upon.”
Schultz said that recent positive changes which have occurred in and around downtown St. Joseph, the looming presence of expansion at the I-94/CR 2 corridor and the enrollment growth at Kennedy Elementary has led him and other members of the council to wonder “if it is time to invest in our own resources.”
“There is a need to make this site more functional and prepare for what I perceive as long-range expansion,” Schultz said. “It will make a big statement we are here to stay and this is where we will be.”
The facilities committee will come back to the council within a month with plan options and cost estimates.