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Erik Burgess, Published August 22 2013

All recommendations for new Fargo City Hall site point downtown

FARGO – The proposed new City Hall appears to be headed downtown.

The 13-person committee tasked with recommending a site for Fargo’s new city government center narrowed its list of 18 sites to five at a meeting Thursday morning. All five sites are downtown and include:

*Repurposing the original City Hall/Civic Center site;

*The old Pierce Company building, 1000 block of First Avenue North;

*Romantix/old FRS building across from the Ground Transportation Center, 400 block of NP Avenue;

*Mid-America Steel building, 92 NP Ave.; and

*US Bank plaza, corner of Second Avenue North and Broadway.

Committee members had earlier ranked each of the 18 sites, and when viewing rankings Thursday, it was clear that repurposing the four blocks City Hall now occupies is the top choice.

All but three members favored that option, but many said they still wanted a short list of the top five sites to be further vetted.

Opposing a renovation of the existing facility is Civic Center Director Bob Getz. He told the committee he was, at first, for remodeling – until he studied the cost.

The building, which was built with the Civic Center in the late 1950s, runs on what Getz called a “janitor in the basement” heating and cooling system, meaning someone has to physically turn valves to adjust the airflow. It would take about $1.8 million to update, Getz said.

It would cost another $600,000 to replace the boilers, $175,000 to fix the roof and $225,000 to replace the windows, which collect frost on the inside during the winter, Getz said.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker pointed out that the sewer system has failed at least twice, and Getz said there are other unknown costs, such as relocating staff during renovations.

“These costs just escalate to a point where I don’t think – I’m sure, I don’t have to say ‘I don’t think’ – I’m sure that it’s not a prudent choice,” Getz said.

Architectural consultant Richard Moorhead of Image Group Architecture and Interiors pointed out the aging City Hall is also ironically “violating its own building code,” which would have to be fixed with any remodeling.

City Engineer April Walker also updated the committee on the Second Street flood wall, which could be bid for construction as early as next fall.

Committee member Joe Burgum asked if it’ll be possible to build a parking ramp in the floodwall, and Walker said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers likes to have free-standing floodwalls and exceptions would take extra persuading.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said the city plans to work with the corps to integrate construction into the floodwall and create “some sort of a promenade” facing the river.

The group has until Oct. 3 to recommend a site. City leaders want construction of the 60,000- to 70,000-square-foot building to be bid by late fall 2014. The budget is $8 million to $12 million, which will likely include some state aid.

At the next meeting Sept. 5, the committee will receive diagrams of each site and estimates of how much it would cost to buy them.

Former Mayor Bruce Furness, who co-chairs the board with Walaker, said the city has not begun to negotiate with owners of proposed sites.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518