By Brandi Makuski
City leaders this week resumed talks of solving ongoing space issues in city government.
The discussion, which has been on pause for more than a year, will use a 2013 facilities study as a stepping stone for additional ideas to solve the problems of cramped offices, ongoing HVAC issues and security risks at the courthouse. The building is owned primarily by Portage Co. but the city holds 27 percent ownership of the facility.
The $24,000 study, termed a “City Hall Relocation Study” by former Mayor Andrew Halverson, was presented to the previous city council by Bray Architects in November of 2013. The study focused on the use and layout of city offices, along with the potential of moving city hall to the former location of Mid-State on Michigan Avenue, which at the time was vacant.
The study concluded while the former Mid-State building was large enough to house city offices, it would require substantial renovation and was not financially feasible at the time.
Scott Schatschneider, direction of public works, called the study “well done and well laid-out” at Monday’s council meeting.
“I think it would benefit all of us to look at it,”Schatschneider said, adding it could be useful in helping the city consider its future plans.
The Mid-State building garnered some interest from UW-Stevens Point in 2014, which had made a lease-to-buy offer on the building, but the terms were not acceptable to the city council and the deal fell apart. The building remains vacant today.
Halverson’s administration also considered utilizing the former Copps building on Church St. to expand city government, as well as the Portage Co. Library building on Main Street at a time when the county’s lease on the city-owned property looked to be in doubt. Neither option panned out.
Mayor Mike Wiza asked members of the common council to compile “any and all options” for solving the city’s space issues, to include utilizing the former MSTC building outright, or leasing it to a third party and using the revenue for renovations or new construction of city offices.
“We’re paying $30,000 a year for a building to sit vacant,” Wiza said. “That makes no sense from a financial aspect.”
Another option offered by Wiza was staying in the courthouse building and expanding — an option which hinges on the future plans of county government. County offices have played musical chairs inside the building for several years, and despite recent renovation projects — including new space for the veterans service, corporation counsel and child support offices — still note concerns for security and poor layout in circuit court. The Portage Co. Board of Supervisors approved a resolution last year to make building a new county government facility “a priority” to replace the Portage Co. Jail — which suffers from overcrowding and has been called “obsolete” by local law enforcement — but did so without timelines or location specifics.
“I’d like you to consider any and all conceivable options for solving our future space needs,” Wiza told the council Monday. “We can’t just wait around to see what the county is going to do; waiting is no longer an option. The one option I want to take off the table right now is doing nothing.”