City Hall future set for debate
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Jul 23, 2013 | 1423 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Swearing in
JOE MUSSELWHITE, left, a new Cleveland Police Department officer, was sworn in Monday by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland. Musselwhite is an Iraq War veteran and is a Bradley County native. He served seven years as a deputy with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. He was introduced to the Cleveland City Council by Chief of Police Wes Snyder. Banner photo, RICK NORTON
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Overcrowding, rising maintenance costs and a growing need to consolidate government operations under one roof prompted Cleveland City Manager Janice Casteel on Monday to urge City Council members to prepare to look ahead at the future of the Municipal Building.

“The Municipal Building will be an item before you at our next planning session [this fall] ... unless you’d like to discuss it today because at some point we do need to discuss it,” Casteel told city fathers during the early afternoon work session.

She added, “... On down the road, is this the building that we will be in or will we be tearing down this structure and building a new Municipal Building ... what is the plan?”

Ongoing repairs to the existing Church Street facility, including recent water damage from heavy rainfall, have forced the city manager to ask Councilmen to prepare to discuss the structure’s facility, whether the deliberation is now or later during an established planning session.

“... The amount of money you spend on this building will be determined by that discussion,” Casteel stressed, and she added, “At some point, we need to have a discussion about the future of our buildings.”

Casteel’s comments came after her report that city maintenance staff members have developed a comprehensive list of municipally-owned buildings, and will begin an intensive inspection program. Once the inspections are completed, a copy of their observations and recommendations will be forwarded to department heads. A copy will also be given to the city manager.

“Do you have a ballpark figure on how much it would take to put this building in good shape?” At-Large Councilman George Poe asked.

Casteel said at present she doesn’t have an estimate, but pointed out various repairs are already in progress, including some related to damage caused by recent heavy rainfall.

Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, whose City Hall office is being repaired due to water damage, asked if anyone knew the age of the current Municipal Building. Most agreed it dates back to the late 1940s or ’50s when it housed the old Cleveland Electric System.

“It just appears to me ... that as I move around we have outgrown this building,” Johnson said.

Besides the repairs being made to his office, and in other areas of the structure, the vice mayor pointed out, “... It just appears to me it’s (City Hall) just too small in a lot of areas. I walk through and I see books and boxes everywhere under the table and under desks ... sometimes they’re even in the hallways until they (employees) can work it into their office.”

Johnson agreed with Casteel’s assessment that the Council is faced with a decision, whether now or later.

“We really need to take a serious look at what we are going to do and discuss what we are going to do ... whether we are going to tear it down or sink more money into it or whatever, because we are beginning to have more and more problems, especially with the flooding issues we’ve had recently,” Johnson stated.

Casteel said it’s also about serving the public.

“When we think about our public and the size of this room (Council chambers), as the city grows, is this room large enough to serve them?” she asked. “We just need to spend some time planning for the future.”

The city manager stressed, and repeated herself so as to avoid confusion in the eyes of the public, “... This is just for discussion to plan for our future. It’s nothing that has to be decided today. We will maintain this building the best we can, as well as the Annex (supplemental City Hall building), and all our city buildings.”

Poe said he has ideas he would like to submit either now or at a future planning session about the Municipal Building’s future. In response to comments made by At-Large Councilman Richard Banks, Poe said his suggestions would keep City Hall in the downtown area.

Banks had reminded his Council colleagues that downtown merchants and others had spoken against City Hall moving away from the downtown area when the idea was previously discussed.

“My thoughts on it are the only time I remember this room (Council chambers) being full the last couple of years was when we discussed moving City Hall somewhere out of the downtown area,” Banks said. “I think the downtown merchants, Lee University and all the people involved in the Museum (Center at Five Points) would really frown upon [City Hall] moving.”

Casteel said planning for City Hall’s future does not have to include moving out of the downtown area.

“But I think we do have to plan for the city’s future,” she said. “I’m not saying we have to build tomorrow, but we have to have a plan so we can work your (Councilmen) plan.”

Unless the Council chooses to discuss City Hall’s future in the short-term, it will be introduced by Casteel at a Council planning retreat sometime this fall, the city manager explained.