Committee suggests ‘reset’ on pricey city hall repairs

City Council’s finance committee on Tuesday put the brakes on the mayor’s proposal to spend $450,000 on $5 million worth of repairs needed to bring city hall up to today’s standards for employees and visitors.

“I think we need a reset,” Councilman Randall J. Allison said.

Multiple repairs are needed, including repairing the roof in its entirety; improving climate control, fire suppression and security; and making the building fully handicapped accessible.

Prior discussion with the Lycoming County commissioners on a joint public safety building concluded it would be in the millions and unaffordable to taxpayers.

Because of that, council asked for a preliminary study to compare costs of bringing the building up to speed and compare it with the joint-municipal public building.

When council was informed the costs could be in the $450,000 range, it thought “that was doable,” Allison said.

“This is a kind of a new direction that we hadn’t discussed in detail as we did before,” Allison said.

He then called for a “reset of the whole process.”

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana offered some comments.

“My recollection is we spoke three to four years ago. I remember saying at the time that there was not enough money allocated,” he said.

“Shouldn’t we have a request for proposals?” Allison asked Campana after the committee received a list of repairs that the administration believes need to be done after speaking with Reynolds Construction officials.

“The city is near its debt limit,” Campana said.

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said a number of repairs and upgrades, such as exterior doors, were discussed years ago and nothing was done. These were capital improvement projects, the administration said.

Councilwoman Liz Miele, chairwoman of the committee, agreed that a more thorough review of the immediate and long-term needs is in order, especially because the city has $450,000 of borrowed money to spend on the improvements. It also is seeking additional state grants and low-interest loans with its finance department and through its economic development consulting firm, Penn Strategies.

Looking at a proposed idea for a handicapped lift, Miele said the architect, Anthony Visco, envisioned a possible ground-floor elevator access for those with handicapped accessibility needs. The ramp outside the rear of the building has too steep a slope.

William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director, said the amount borrowed for these projects isn’t enough to accomplish the tasks at hand.

“I can tell you, after overseeing a $12 million building project, that $450,000 isn’t going to get much done,” Nichols said, referring to the Trade and Transit Centre II and Midtown Landing projects.

Discussing security measures, city Police Chief David J. Young said the city can consider a scenario whereby a security guard is hired and offices are secured by a series of walls and doors. The security alone would cost $12 to $15 per hour on a part-time basis.

Adam Winder, general manager of the public safety department, said thermostat and control systems are antiquated. The pneumatic system thermostats leak air, and city workers are “chasing down extremes in climate from room to room.”

He also said the attic space allows workers to view the sky, and that’s not supposed to happen.

The walls inside council chambers are wet with water, Winder said, pointing to a corner wall that is showing water damage.

“We need a reset,” Allison said, reiterating his concerns about prioritizing and funding the projects.