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City hall renovation goes back to drawing board

BHH Partners, an Perham-based architecture firm, is redesigning this north wing of Park Rapids City Hall, facing Second Street West, to house city council chambers. (Photo by Robin Fish / Enterprise)

Renovation of a space to house Park Rapids City Council chambers will go forward, but on a smaller scale than previously planned.

The council voted Tuesday, Jan. 23 to approve a contract with BHH Partners, planning architects with offices in Perham, to redesign the north wing of city hall.

The $16,160 contract for architect and engineering services includes fees for redesigning the chambers and, after a design is approved, putting the project out to bid.

A previous design was rejected by the city council after the construction bids came in at a higher cost than the city was prepared to pay.

Chris Fieldsend, the city's public facilities superintendent, said the low bid on the original design was $580,000. The city's target is for the project to cost $350,000 or less.

According to City Treasurer Angela Brumbaugh, BHH told the city it believes this should be possible, but it won't know for sure until the bids are in.

Fieldsend told the council Dr. Rodney Helm had offered to sell the city his adjacent eye clinic building, hoping it could be renovated for less money.

"I brought it up," Fieldsend said in a phone interview, "so if the council had any idea that they might want to do that, they could save $16,000 (by passing on BHH's contract proposal) and pursue that."

Fieldsend noted accepting Helm's offer would introduce new problems, such as providing sufficient restrooms and reconfiguring small examinations rooms into larger spaces.

"With the renovation costs, it would be more than the city planned to spend," said Fieldsend, taking into account the building's purchase price. He said Helm did not quote a price, but the building is listed at $290,000.

With these issues in view, the council decided not to take that direction and, instead, approved Tom Conway's motion to move forward with the redesign.

The city council currently meets on the lower level of the public library. The idea of renovating the north wing of city hall as council chambers arose after the city's administration office moved from that area to the south wing, where the city previously rented space to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District.

This left the front area of the building, facing Second Street West, vacant. Councilmembers and city staff saw an opportunity to updating this area to serve as chambers, Fieldsend said.

This would require changes to the bathrooms and entryway, and taking out some existing offices to make room for the chamber. There were also structural issues to address, Fieldsend said. For example, the roof is not built to handle the weight of snow required by current building codes.

During a visit to city hall, City Clerk Margie Vik told the Enterprise the part of the initial design that seemed to put the cost out of reach was the bathrooms.

With the capacity of the main meeting room ー originally designed for approximately 200 occupants ー both restrooms (men's and women's) were required by code to have three seats. This would have led to expensive demolition, plumbing, and cement work in the current one-seater restrooms.

As a result, the new design will have to scale back the size of the meeting room. Vik said, "We've never had 200 people at a council meeting. So it's never been necessary to accommodate that many people."

With smaller chambers, the facility will be able to keep its single-seater restrooms with only a cosmetic remodel.