By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
KYLE – Proponents for preserving and expanding the downtown presence of civic facilities took steps towards two big victories at Tuesday’s session of the Kyle City Council.
By the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the restoration of Kyle’s old city hall, not long ago a dormant project, was headed for the fast track. Meanwhile, a library building committee recommended that the council choose a site directly southwest of the city square where the old city hall rests.
If both projects come to fruition, the original section of Kyle will amount to an historical walking tour with the library, significant buildings such as the city’s first creamery and carriage house, a refurbished old city hall on the city square and the new city hall all on a mostly diagonal path.
Obstacles remain, however. In particular, the cost for the 62,500-square-foot Miller block recommended as the library site is almost certain to exceed the $350,000 cap for property acquisition that’s been established by the building committee and the city council.
Furthermore, the building committee’s second choice, a site in Plum Creek’s “uptown” section adjacent to the Hays CISD Performing Arts Center, is being offered as a donation. The building committee argued before council that the Plum Creek site would involve development costs that wouldn’t be necessary on the Miller property.
The council directed city staff to study the feasibility of a library site and report back in six to eight weeks.
As recently as April, Kyle City Manager Tom Mattis posed the restoration of the old city hall as a puzzle to the council. Mattis told councilmembers the building couldn’t be restored for less than $670,000, adding that the city would be challenged to fund the project.
The Kyle Area Senior Zone (KASZ), which operated the building as its headquarters, found that it could not raise funds for the restoration and even moved its meetings out of the building as it deteriorated.
However, Councilmembers Ray Bryant and David Wilson have pushed for the city to prioritize the old city hall restoration. Wilson, elected to the council on May 10, campaigned on the preservation of downtown landmarks like the old city hall and the train depot, part of which is used as office space for the Kyle Area Chamber of Commerce (KACC).
According to a preliminary timeline unveiled Tuesday night by Assistant City Manager James Earp, who represented city staff with Mattis on vacation, the old city hall could be entirely restored a year from now “if everything adheres to the plan.” The council still has to formally endorse a plan and agree on a funding mechanism.
The Kyle City Council met in the old city hall for decades before moving to the new city hall two years ago. The building since has deteriorated to the point at which it no longer is used. Wilson advocates refurbishing the facility to preserve the city’s heritage and function as a downtown community center that would generate a small amount of revenue.
“The basic motivation is to move this as quickly as possible,” Wilson said.
The timeline stipulates that the city staff will present a Request for Proposal (RFP) draft to the council next month, then send out the RFP to contractors. After the proposals come back in August, the staff would present a plan to the council in December, bids would go out in January, the council would approve bids in February, then construction would begin.
The city still hasn’t determined how it would fund the project, for which it has earmarked $700,000 in its proposed five-year capital improvement plan. The city could issue a Certificate of Obligation (CO), a debt instrument that doesn’t require voter approval.
However, city finance director Charles Cunningham said “I don’t know if it would be prudent,” to issue a CO just for the old city hall, adding that other financing instruments are available.
The timeline presented to council places the old city hall project back into the city’s hands, if the council accepts it. Wilson said the KACZ is on board with the city’s initiative.