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Published June 24 2013

Forum editorial: Time right for a new City Hall

Building a new City Hall for Fargo is not a new idea. City officials have been talking about it for years. The current building, pushing the half-century mark, needs extensive repairs and upgrades. It’s too small to accommodate the demands a growing city has put on city government.

The 24,000-square-foot building has been remodeled and expanded during the past 20 years, but it’s not been enough to keep up. A 2006 study concluded that the city needs between 40,000 and 60,000 square feet to handle current space demands and plan for the future. A new building of that size would cost from $8 million to

$12 million today.

What about expanding and/or remodeling the existing City Hall? The short answer is “not likely.” The old building has all sorts of problems beyond the space issue that would cost millions to fix. The heating system could collapse at any time, city officials said. If remodeling were the favored option, the cost of asbestos abatement would be prohibitive. The longer the city waits to replace the aged and deteriorating structure, the more costly a new building will be.

Mayor Dennis Walaker, who prior to being elected mayor was the city’s public works director, knows the building well. “There is nothing salvageable … in the whole building,” he said. “I think we’ve spent enough time to be doing Band-Aid approaches to keep the system working.”

Another factor working in favor of removal is that the old City Hall is physically impeding Fargo’s long-term downtown framework plan, which includes a “gateway to the river.” The potential for public and private development near the river (with permanent flood protection in place) is enormous. If old and inadequate city buildings are in the way, it makes sense to clear them out.

There are several downtown locations that could be excellent sites for a new City Hall. A task force will take up the challenge. It will assess the need, potential costs and sources for funding, and site options.

It’s about time. The city came close in 2006 to abandoning the old building and constructing a new City Hall, but backed away from the project in favor of expanding the Civic Center and adding a skyway. That delay will mean, among other things, that a City Hall project today will cost more than it would have then.

Fargo is growing. There is no indication steady growth and the associated demands for all city services are about to slow. City government must keep up and do so in a way that is efficient for the long term, public worker-friendly and responsible to taxpayers. A new City Hall seems to meet those criteria.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.