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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dunedin explores $3.1 million plan for new government services annex



DUNEDIN - The city is exploring plans to replace its aging Municipal Services Building and City Hall with a new $3.1 million government services annex.

Under the proposal, Dunedin would consolidate City Hall, at 542 Main St., and the Municipal Services Building, at 750 Milwaukee Ave., into a two-story structure to be built on an existing parking lot beside a third city-owned building, at 737 Louden Ave. The new structure might be attached tothe Louden building, which currently houses the city's law enforcement, economic development and planning departments.

The Municipal Services Building would be torn down and the site converted to a parking lot.

In merging the three city buildings, officials aim to create a "one-stop shop" for citizens seeking permitting, utility billing and other services. The proposal also would address decade-old concerns about deterioration, capacity, handicapped access, security, weather resistance and storage at the Milwaukee building and at City Hall.

The City Commission gave staff the green light this week to bring in a consultant to evaluate the city's building needs. City Manager Rob DiSpirito stressed to commissioners during a workshop Tuesday that plans are "very preliminary" and can be halted at any time.

"We have some buildings that are, to put it kindly, challenged," he said. "By retaining a design professional, it really will help bring some more form to the conversation."

The proposal stems from space needs reports done in 2000 and 2009 that deemed City Hall and the Municipal Services Building among Dunedin's "functionally obsolete" structures.

Both documents recommended merging the Municipal Services Building - which houses Dunedin's city clerk, utility billing, city finance and human resources offices - with City Hall.

In both buildings, officials say, there are roof leaks, faulty ventilation systems, bathrooms or other spaces that can't accommodate wheelchairs, insufficient security, and documents stuffed into "every nook and cranny" because of a lack of storage space. Neither could withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

The circular, 80-person-capacity commission chamber in City Hall - built in the 1970s as a library - is too small, forcing some residents to sit outside when controversial topics draw a large crowd. Pillars block audience members' view. There's no sprinkler system, but there are vermin, including rats and bugs.

Even worse off is the Milwaukee building, which officials describe as being "on its last leg."

Furthermore, the current configuration forces staffers and residents who are doing business in both the Louden and Milwaukee buildings, which back up to each other, to walk outside and around the corner, or to walk several blocks to City Hall.

This isn't the first time commissioners have tried to tackle the problem.

Roughly two years ago, commissioners decided against a new City Hall. Employees were being laid off, so the timing didn't seem right.

One benefit of moving forward now is that with low construction costs and interest rates, the bill for the project would be only about $3.1 million, compared with an estimated cost of $15 million to $18 million fiveto 10 years ago, officials said. The city also hopes to funnel proceeds from the sale of two properties once envisioned for city government buildings into the new annex's construction.

Most commissioners on Tuesday supported staff spending $500,000 set aside in the 2012 budget to bring in a space planning consultant.

Among the things they want analyzed is whether to remain in the current City Hall, to include space in the proposed annex or to seek a new building altogether, and - if City Hall operations moved - whether to retain or sell the building to get it back on the city tax rolls.

DiSpirito said he'd been in touch with the original architect, whose suggested uses included a library, a community theater performance venue, gallery space for the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, multi-purpose space for the historical society, or even the city's first movie theater.

Vice Mayor Ron Barnette called the possibilities "exciting." With building problems dating back to at least 2000, he said, action is necessary, especially at the Milwaukee building.

"We're working out a plan that, over the long haul, is going to be saving some money," he said.

"We're in great financial shape," said Commissioner David Carson, referencing the city's healthy reserves and budget, "and I don't think there's a better time to build than now."

The proposal met resistance, however, from Commissioner Julie Scales, who said her review of meeting minutes regarding the 2009 space needs analysis showed that just replacing the roof on the Municipal Services Building would be sufficient.

"I think there's a lot of uncertainty as to what the needs are going to be for the city," Scales said. "We are in the worst economy we've been in for years. This is not the time to be building new edifices. I support making the fixes to Municipal Services now, with the idea that in 10 years, the dust will settle, and we can see where we are."

DiSpirito countered that the city has been patching problems at its government buildings for years. A new roof, he said, wouldn't address the Milwaukee building's security, handicapped accessibility, plumbing and electrical problems.

"It goes back to the public," he said. "They're not well-served by these buildings."

--Keyonna Summers, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Monday, December 12, 2011 2:28pm]


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