City Hall Space Debate: Rent Or Buy?

August 14, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Alongside 25 employees working in cramped quarters in City Hall sits$40,000 worth of space studies collecting dust.

And City Council President William F. Haifley says the time for discussion is over.

"Let's do something instead of talking this issue to death," Haifley said during Monday's meeting.

During the hour-long discussion that ensued, debate was renewed on whether the city should construct a new building, renovate City Hall or lease additional city office space nearby.

"It all goes back to an individual preference to rent or own," said Haifley, who advocates building more space as soon as possible. "The sooner we start to build, the less we will have to pay in the long run, and with a building we would have a capital investment."

But other council members countered that leasing space is thebetter way to go.

"We have no disagreement about a need for more space," said Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan. "But we should look seriously at leasing additional offices and moving some departments out of City Hall."

Leasing space, which city administrators estimate wouldcost about $30,000 a year, would buy the city time, Yowan said, evenif the eventual decision is to build.

Yowan also favors renovating City Hall, including relocating council chambers to the first floorand making the building handicapped-accessible.

"Let's refurbish a house already in our family," said Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein, who said space is available within walking distance of City Hall. "It's imperative we ease the overcrowded conditions at Emerald Hill (City Hall), but let's do that by giving life to our existing buildings."

Orenstein said she will meet with Department of Public Works Director William S. Mowell on Friday to discuss those modifications. She said she would report her findings at the Aug. 26 session.

Thatmeeting and all following sessions through November will be conducted at the Volunteer Fire Company at 66 E. Main St. Monday's meeting was at Decker Hall at Western Maryland College.

In opposition to Yowan and Orenstein, Councilman Edward S. Calwell advocated a "new building specifically designed for our present and future needs." He also asked the council's Public Improvements Committee to study the feasibility of modifying City Hall. Mowell said such renovations likely would be costly, considering the age of the building.

Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. called renovating a "Band-Aid" approach.

"The decision to build should be made now in this economic climate," he said, proposing construction of a building on city-owned property behind City Hall.

"We should move our business toward town, not back overthe hill," countered Orenstein.

The councilwoman, who conducted adoor-to-door campaign for her seat last May, said she has no mandateto build from her constituents.

"I did not hear from one person who wants us to build a new City Hall," she said.

Yowan said if leasing were agreeable to all members, the city should see what is available.

Said Haifley, "Let's have some semblance of what can be donebefore our next meeting."

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