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April 9th, 2008
Old Kyle city hall in limbo

By Bill Peterson
Correspondent

As the old Kyle city hall sits dormant on the city’s list of capital improvements, it also deteriorates on the town square with a questionable future.

The city council looked at the matter last Tuesday night, hearing little to indicate that improvements to the old structure will take place anytime soon, if ever. Indeed, City Manager Tom Mattis posed the hard question: Is it worthwhile for the city to spend the $670,000 needed to bring the building up to code and restore it as a fully functional facility?

“We’re trying to figure out what to do with our old home,” Mattis said.

When the city council moved its chamber to the new city hall late in 2006, the city intended to refashion the old city hall as a new headquarters for the Kyle Area Senior Zone (KASZ).

Five years ago, city officials thought the building could be upgraded for $210,000, the amount the city has committed to the project. However, costs have increased, KASZ has raised only about $70,000 and the seniors now are meeting in area churches.

Furthermore, Mattis said $670,000 of changes to the old city hall still wouldn’t result in a building as nice as KASZ hoped. KASZ wanted to re-align the interior, for example, but Mattis said the restrooms can’t be moved.

City staff said the building needs $200,000 worth of interior work, including electrical work to bring the building to code. Another $420,000 is needed for exterior work, including repairs to a leaky roof. Throw in $50,000 for engineering costs and the city is looking at $670,000.

“It would be a complete inside and out upgrade,” Mattis said. “It will be nice, but not to the level that was originally contemplated by the seniors.”

The 80-year old building on Center Street opened as a schoolhouse. The city re-worked the building shortly before city council meetings started taking place there in 1975.

During its initial steps toward refurbishing the building, KASZ found oddities resulting from the 1970s changes. The ceiling is sunken to cover the tops of arched windows from the inside. Tom Searcy of KASZ said he found that beams were missing during an examination of the roof and ceiling. Roof leaks and electrical issues only add to questions about the building’s feasibility.

While the city has concentrated on growth and economic development, the old city hall sat on the back burner. And KASZ has had little more success expediting upgrades to the building.

“I take all the blame for us not being able to do what I thought we would be able to do,” said Searcy, who has led KASZ’s fund-raising efforts. “I was optimistic about what the community would do. A lot of the people who were most vociferous about keeping the building haven’t done a lot about it.”

In view of the renovation’s costs, Mattis asked the city council to consider if the building should function more broadly as a community center, assuming the city makes the repairs. That doesn’t mean KASZ would be unable to use the building, but it would not be the lone tenant.

Conceivably, KASZ could operate the facility even if it functions as a community center.

“I know y’all would be good stewards of the building,” Kyle Councilmember David Salazar said to Searcy.

Mattis also advised the city council to think in terms of how it would be willing to time and prioritize the renovations among the city’s various capital improvements. The city council took no action as it contemplated a difficult decision that pits pragmatism against nostalgia.

It’s possible, for example, that the city could spend the $210,000 it has committed, then make up the difference with capital improvement debt, which is a fairly regular procedure. The city council will look at a proposal to issue $22.8 million in debt later this month, though the old city hall is not included among those projects.

An exchange between Searcy and Councilmember Dan Ekakiadis illustrates the difficulty of fixing the old city hall. Ekakiadis wonder aloud why the city couldn’t just spend the $210,000 it has committed to get the interior and electrical work done right away, then pay later for the exterior fixes with capital improvement debt. Searcy responded that the exterior work needs to be done first, because the structural integrity of the roof doesn’t guarantee that new electrical work could stay dry.

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