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Erik Burgess, Published June 24 2013

New City Hall site to be picked by Oct. 1

FARGO – The city administrator here wants a site picked out for a new City Hall by the beginning of October.

The City Commission approved with a 4-0 vote on Monday night establishing a citizen task force to begin vetting locations for a new City Hall.

The task force will include about 10 residents and will be led by former Mayor Bruce Furness and co-chaired by Mayor Dennis Walaker.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said he’d like City Engineer April Walker and Director of Finance Kent Costin on the task force as well.

A week ago, Zavoral told the Forum Editorial Board that the current City Hall, which was built in the 1960s, is cramped and has serious infrastructure issues. Walaker agreed on Monday that the time for “duct tape” fixes is over.

“We don’t want to build the Taj Mahal,” the mayor said. “We want to build something that’s functional and that’s going to last.”

Zavoral said Monday that once the citizen task force is formed, he’d like them to pick a preferred site within 75 days, or by Oct. 1.

Then it would take 45 days to select an architect. Assuming seven to nine months for project design, it could be bid out for construction by late fall 2014, Zavoral said.

The construction window, he said, would be about 12 to 16 months.

The budget for the project is between $8 million and $12 million, some coming from state aid, and the new building will likely be 40,000 to 60,000 square feet, according to Zavoral.

One option city officials have mentioned is repurposing the Fargo Civic Center into office space.

While building downtown could be a “triggering device for additional riverfront development,” Zavoral said other areas of town should be vetted.

“I think we’ve got to look at a number of sites and see what the opportunities are,” Zavoral said.

Commissioners on Monday seemed to agree that a new City Hall is needed, but Commissioner Mike Williams showed frustration that they were not told of the plans before the June 19 Forum story that detailed Zavoral’s desire for a new building.

When Walaker announced on Monday night that Furness would be chairman of the task force, Williams interjected.

“We haven’t even formed this committee, and we’ve already got a chair,” he said.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad decision,” Williams added. “I’m saying it’s a decision that was made without all the commissioners being involved.”

Walaker said planning for a new City Hall won’t be a “dictatorial process.”

“If you want to be involved, please let us know,” the mayor said.

A study done in 2000 showed that the 24,000-square-foot City Hall building was about 10,000 square feet too small at the time. In the early 2000s, in lieu of building a new City Hall, officials decided to expand the Civic Center and build new City Commission chambers, which opened in 2006.

In other business, commissioners unanimously approved Monday a $15,000 Community Development Block Grant for Rick Engen, owner of Fort Noks Bar of Gold, 52 Broadway.

Engen plans to pave his gravel parking lot, which had been the subject of a lawsuit with the city. Engen also plans to add lighting, fencing and landscaping, said Dan Mahli, community development administrator.

The commission’s approval is contingent on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission approving Engen’s recently updated plans.

Commissioner Brad Wimmer was absent.