New city hall on the horizon?

After 58 years at Main and Ash streets, city staff is considering moving the Cortez City Hall building in order to better suit its needs.

While no final cost has been determined, a $5 million price tag was discussed at Tuesday's Cortez City Council meeting.

Rick Smith, director of general services for the city, said doing it right would be crucial because any new building would be used for at least 40 years.

Smith asked council members what they thought of the idea.

Council member Matt Keefauver thought the staff input was much more valuable, explaining council members only spend a few hours a month for four years in the building, compared to employees who have a 40-hour work week.

Keefauver also said any new city hall should serve as a dual-function building.

City Manager Shane Hale said the city does not intend to make the next city hall a grand building.

"We will not be able to do it without criticism, but we can still do it right," he said.

Replacing the old building in the same location would not be recommended because the parking situation would not be rectified.

The current city hall building was built in 1955 and over time has become less practical. The city identified the need to replace the building in the mid-1990s because it had simply outgrown the building for offices and parking.

Without the funds to address it at that time, the city tried to remedy the situation by moving different staff and departments into other buildings.

Hale said this was an OK short-term solution, but made customer service for some functions inconvenient because the public was getting bounced around from building to building.

Anyone coming to city hall to pay a water bill can attest to the fact that the parking is inadequate, so whether someone is paying a water bill, going to municipal court or attending a meeting, many people find that the parking is lacking, Hale said in an email.

"This is the main reason why doing a remodel on this site isn't practical; a partial demolition and rebuild with more office space has been considered and studied, but in the end this solution would only address part of the problem," he wrote in the email. "Parking on this site will never be ample enough. It's a hard building to navigate for our elderly and our handicapped citizens."

He said the council chambers have poor acoustic quality and the audience seems to be far removed from the discussions, and this building generally doesn't serve any other community purposes because of the layout.

Hale said the city has identified four preliminary possible sites:

Land east of the municipal pool where the sand volleyball court is located;

Property directly in between the police department and the library;

Vacant parcel located at the corner of Empire and Mildred;

The Caulkins Building, on First Street.

The city owns the first three locations, while the Caulkins Building is owned by the Montezuma-Cortez School District but may be a viable alternative.

The city manager also said the Justice Center at Empire and Mildred streets, which the county owns, is intriguing.

An assessment is currently underway and it will help the city define how large the building would need to be, how much parking is needed and other things.

Part of the assessment will include an estimate on the costs.

No time frame has been set on when the project might begin. Once the assessment is completed with the cost estimates, the city will look at its fund balance and financing options and then determine when to start the project.

The city has still not decided what to do with the current city hall building if a new one was to be built.

"We've discussed different needs in the community preliminarily, but no decisions have been made," Hale said. "We believe that because the city has done a very good job with maintenance on this building, this building has a lot of useful life ahead of it in another capacity."

He added there are possibilities in our non-profit community, or even as a commercial office building and mentioned selling it at the Tuesday council meeting would help pay for the cost of a new location.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com