Renovate? Rebuild? City hall’s future in limbo

MARSHALL – It wasn’t going to fix any of the problems with Marshall’s city hall building just yet, but it was a start, said members of a task force that had its first meeting Friday morning.

The group, made up of Marshall City Council members, city officials and staff, and one member of the public, was called together to discuss the state of the 50-year-old Marshall municipal building on Main Street. The question of how to deal with building deficiencies ranging from leaks to concrete damage has been hanging over the city for years, officials say.

Task force members toured the municipal building Friday and outlined the group’s general plan of action.

“To me, it’s about what’s it going to cost to bring it down to being a good, workable building,” said task force leader and Marshall City Council member John DeCramer. DeCramer said the group won’t be examining specific building solutions right away.

“Really, the intent of this whole group is to take an analytical view of the whole building,” DeCramer said.

That will involve prioritizing which problems need to be solved, and determining what it would cost to do so. Ultimately, the task force will report back to the city council.

The Marshall municipal building was constructed in 1964 and hasn’t had any major reconstruction done to it since.

“In 50 years, it’s probably going to need some major upgrades,” said Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson.

Among issues Olson pointed out on the building tour included electrical systems that are inadequate for current office and computer needs, ailing heating and air conditioning systems and leaks in plumbing, windows and ceilings. Building features like public restrooms, meeting rooms and an elevator are not handicapped-accessible, he said.

“That’s one of the reasons we moved our council meetings,” to the Marshall Middle School, Olson said.

Part of the problem with systems like the building’s heating, plumbing and wiring, he said, was that the building made for entirely different purposes than it serves now. It was built as a combination emergency shelter, fire hall and police station, rather than as an office building only.

“They originally got a lot of money from the government for civil defense. That’s part of why the building is the way it is,” said council member Mike Boedigheimer.

Unfortunately, the mixed use of the building contributed to some of its biggest deficiencies.

Olson said throughout the years, road salt residue from fire trucks and police vehicles seeped into the concrete floor of the building’s garage and caused serious damage. Although parts of the floor have been patched, Olson said the rebar in the concrete is corroded, and chunks of concrete are falling away on the underside of the slab, too. Basement-level offices and meeting rooms under the garage are now sitting vacant because of the hazard.

Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said the municipal building is big enough for city needs, but the existing floor plan of offices isn’t very efficient, or user-friendly for members of the public.

DeCramer and Olson said in future meetings, the task force would take more time to consider building issues and prioritize what absolutely needs to be done with the facilities.

Some group members said they are unhappy with the city’s apparent priorities in taking care of the building so far.

“You’re listing a lot of deficiencies in the building,” council member Glenn Bayerkohler said to Olson. Given the extent of the problems, Bayerkohler said he didn’t understand why the city was moving forward on construction projects like a new municipal liquor store, instead of focusing on city hall. “I would think we would fix what we have now.”

For being one of the newest buildings downtown, the municipal building was in comparatively bad shape, Boedigheimer said.

“There has been a deliberate attempt by city employees, past and present, to do nothing to this building so they could build a new one,” Boedigheimer said. He said he blamed the building’s condition on the city council always going along with staff recommendations on building issues.

On the other hand, DeCramer said, it isn’t unusual for city buildings to get by on small, day-to-day repairs instead of more expensive renovations.

Martig added that city staff don’t really have a preference as to whether city hall is renovated or rebuilt.

Group member David Sturrock said Bayerkohler’s and Boedigheimer’s concerns could be useful for future discussion.

“But the fact is, we’ve got the problems we have,” Sturrock said. It would make more sense to focus on evaluating the building first.

Olson recommended group members take time to read through copies of a building study conducted on city hall in 2006. In addition to identifying trouble spots, Olson said the report discusses space needs for various city offices.

The task force will reconvene next week.