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Brand New City Hall? -Not so fast

For several years the City of Salem has believed it needed an upgrade and extensive redesign to City Hall.  Officials and staff are concerned about seismic weaknesses and facility overcrowding, and this week will launch a web page to inform citizens of progress making that expansion possible, including tracking its hope that a bond measure in 2014 or beyond will pay the expense.

The “Public Safety Facility and Civic Center Seismic Needs project,” which may cost taxpayers upwards of $65 million, is needed to retrofit City Hall and reorganize the structures that do the City’s business, says Courtney Knox Busch of the City of Salem.

It’s an issue which she says “has been a part of our community dialogue since 2009,” after a seismic study showed that extensive repairs were needed so city offices could be evacuated in an emergency, and after critical functions of the police facility had to be moved off-site into lease space because of overcrowding.

It was back then that the city conceived that a modern public safety facility might house all critical city functions and resolve seismic concerns at the same time.   The city decided to focus on using the land the city hall, police station and library already occupy, so there would be no new city purchase and because the property still has room for expansion.

It was also attractive to the City that it might keep different departments near each other.  “We believe the location… next to other city departments in this central area of town increases efficiency,” says Knox Busch.
In June of 2013, City Council asked staff to prepare for a community discussion.  “The goal,” says Knox Busch, “is to inform the community and solicit their ideas” about the concept and timing.

It is never easy to get new projects going, so that although Knox Busch describes a staff tasked with “renewing outreach,” many in the community currently feel confused and excluded.  The project web page did not appear on October 14, as scheduled, and no images were made available to Salem Weekly for this story.

Knox Busch describes a current conceptual site plan which shows a new building to the east of Peace Plaza, at the street level.

She assures the public that there are no plans to impact Peace Plaza itself, a point about which city actions have left many in the community uncertain.  The city is only interested in repairing the breaking PeacePlaza concrete, Knox Busch says, and retrofitting the fountain to meet water filtration requirements.

The area affected may include the extensive block of property between Commercial and Liberty, Ferry and Leslie.

All future construction on the extensive project is contingent on Salem City Council deciding to pursue a bond measure, “after extensive community dialogue,” Knox Busch says.

“If council and the community are interested in pursuing this project, and a bond measure on the ballot of a future election passes, then work would begin in earnest on the design and engineering.”

Construction would follow a year and a half to two years later.

When the web page becomes available it is expected to serve as a “comprehensive resource of information” on how the new face of Salem Government will evolve.

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