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TOUGH CHOICE City should get public input, think through building issue

The decision about what to do with Paducah's aging City Hall is not a simple one. And we think the Paducah City Commission would be wise to seek public input, perhaps even appoint a citizens advisory panel, before rendering a decision.

The 50-year-old building has developed structural problems, including, significantly, 5-to-9 inch sags at the corners of its concrete canopy. That problem this week forced officials to block off portions of the building's terrace to reduce the risk to citizens and workers. The building's heating, cooling, mechanical and electrical systems also are at or beyond their intended useful lives.

A report by two engineering firms that was presented to the Paducah City Commission last Tuesday estimates the cost of renovating City Hall at about $13 million. The National Parks Service's Historic American Buildings Survey says the current building contains 61,200 square feet. The city believes it needs 50,000 square feet to house all city departments going forward. Engineers at Tuesday's meeting suggested based on recent construction costs of other buildings that a new 50,000 square foot structure could be built for around $10 million. City commissioners have asked for a firmer projection of what a new building might cost.

Ordinarily we advocate that government take the most frugal route, which is likely to be a new building. But in the case of City Hall, we don't think the choice is so clearcut.

While people's impressions vary on City Hall, it is an architecturally important structure, both historically, and in the way it ties in with Dolly McNutt Plaza and the McCracken County Public Library nearby.

City Hall was designed in the early 1960s by prominent architect Edward Durell Stone. Other buildings Stone designed include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the U.S. pavilion at the Brussels World Fair and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. Stone incorporated features of all three structures into Paducah's City Hall, making it architecturally one of the most unique and interesting municipal buildings in the state.

So the question now is: What do we do with it?

Selling it and relocating doesn't seem to be an option. If City Hall needs $13 million in renovations, who could the city expect to be a buyer? And it's certainly not in the city's best interest to let the building sit vacant.

Tearing it down and building a slightly smaller, more efficient building on the same location may be an option, but care would have to be taken to incorporate architectural features in the new building that would fit with the library and plaza, which could boost the price tag.

And of course the city could just bite the bullet and renovate. The problem with that - in addition to the price tag - is that at times it's difficult to renovate 1960s-era buildings to efficiently meet the space and technology needs of 2014.

Suffice it to say, the best solution is far from apparent at this point. More will be known when the city gets firmer cost comparisons. But we do think the city should proceed cautiously, get public input, and really think this one through.

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