Milton switching gears on new City Hall location

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, August 7, 2013

MILTON—It appears the city of Milton is walking away from plans to add a City Hall expansion to the planned police department on the city's southeast side.

Amid bids that came in $200,000 over budget for a $2.5 million combined police department and City Hall, the council and city staff are now pursuing another potential location for City Hall—a former bank on the city's east-side downtown.

City Administrator Jerry Schuetz confirmed Wednesday the city is eyeing the vacant former Milton Savings Bank at 110 Parkview Drive to see if it would be suitable as a location for City Hall.

The bank, which Bank of Milton bought in a merger in 2011, is just south of the current Milton Police Department. The city plans to vacate the current police department and potentially demolish it after the department moves into the former Dean medical building in 2014, officials say.

The city had been awaiting bids for a redevelopment and build-out of the Dean building at 710 S. Janesville St. to house the police department, municipal court and an addition for City Hall.

But city officials are saying that the cost overruns appear too high for the city to alter its project plans and still have an addition of City Hall be part of the project.

Schuetz said the project's lowest construction bid came in about $200,000 over estimates. With estimated costs for furnishing and finishing work, the whole project would come in at as much as $580,000 over the city's original estimates, Schuetz said this week.

Schuetz told The Gazette on Wednesday that options for a less-expensive redesign of a shared City Hall-police department would create “substantial” changes that might not suit the needs of the police department and City Hall staff.

Amid the potential cost overruns, Schuetz said combined police department and City Hall “doesn't appear to have created a good or affordable long term investment for taxpayers.”

Schuetz this week said the city plans to analyze a number of properties, but he called Milton Savings Bank “the primary site under analysis for a potential fit” for City Hall.

He said the council emerged from a closed-door discussion Tuesday night with plans to tour the bank building next week.

The city now plans to reopen bids for a plan to renovate the Dean building as a police department and municipal court and to renovate the Shaw building as a two-floor library. The new plan would not include a planned City Hall addition.

It's not clear how much money the city could save scaling back the police department project, and it's not clear what the former Milton Bank could cost for purchase and renovation. 

Schuetz indicated the city would likely strike some kind of land-contract deal with the owner of the bank property, and pay for the property through a rent-to-own arrangement.

The city has been eyeing the former Milton Savings Bank since last year, when it sought an appraisal of it. At the time, the city wanted to buy the building to hold as a potential site for business development.

The city already owns the Community House and the current Milton Police Department property, both of which are located along Parkview Drive.

If the city bought the bank property, it would have a controlling interest in real estate on Parkview Drive in the northern portion of Goodrich Park, which is a main commercial area the city is focused on redeveloping in the face of the Highway 26 bypass.

In a memo submitted Monday, Mayor Brett Frazier wrote that he endorses a new location for City Hall that's separate from the former Dean building, saying that plan would “maintain the affordability of Milton and invest our tax dollars wisely.”

Frazier also wrote that the new plan still would allow City Hall to vacate the Shaw building, a move that's a linchpin in a $155,000 city plan to renovate and expand the library.

The city in June approved a deal to borrow through a $1.9 million bond over a 20-year span, and to spend $730,000 in city funds for the project, which included a plan to renovate space for the Milton Public Library at the Shaw Municipal Building at 430 E. High St., the current location of the library and City Hall.

The city last year bought the former Dean medical building for $320,000.

At the time, the city planned to house the police department and municipal court there, and upgrade the building with a new police vehicle garage and an evidence-storage area—two features officials have said are insufficient at the current police department downtown.

But the city council this spring approved getting bids for a potential addition to the former Dean building which would add space for a combined City Hall, police department and municipal court.

That move came after the city last year had looked into a renovation of space for both City Hall and the Milton Public Library at the Shaw Municipal building, where the two city services are now located.

The council soured on the Shaw building renovation plan after a consultant learned it would be difficult to reconfigure the building up for accessibility, quiet and privacy for city workers and library users, officials said.

Last updated: 4:31 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013

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