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DECISIONS City Hall effort needs guidance of citizens

City leaders are giving Paducah residents a chance to get involved in the idea process for renovating or replacing City Hall, and we continue to encourage citizens to do so.

The city announced last week that it will seek citizen input on five project values: image, customer experience, functional building and workspaces, siting impacts and sustainability. It began soliciting public input on the first of those values - image - last week.

Public Information Officer Pam Spencer says on the image topic the city is looking for people's views about the message the building should communicate. "Some city halls portray a message of efficiency, others are architecturally grand and showcase the city, while other city halls are simple and functional, no frills," she said.

The city is asking residents to email their thoughts on the subject to cityhallproject@paducahky.gov or post them at www.facebook.com/PaducahCityHallProject. Residents' ideas, along with those of city commissioners and department heads will then be forwarded to the City Hall Working Group, a citizens panel the city plans to appoint to provide further public guidance on the project.

Our own view on the image topic is that the city should seek a solution that combines a degree of grandeur on the exterior with functionality on the inside of the building. City Halls do make an impression on visitors, many of whom see the building but never actually enter it. The existing City Hall in its early days accomplished those twin goals. It was architecturally impressive on the exterior and was utilitarian in its interior design as it addressed the needs of its day.

Some will recall that for many years the Paducah Police Department and a city jail were housed in the basement of City Hall. Earthquake concerns and other needs eventually led the police department to seek above-ground quarters at their present location between Kentucky Avenue and Broadway. The operations and needs of other offices in City Hall have also changed over the years, adding further impetus to the current project.

Whether it is a re-do of the current City Hall or a new building, we think something that is impressive on the outside and functional and adaptable on the inside ought to be the goal.

Of the five values the city seeks input on, we think siting impacts is potentially the most difficult. Current rough cost estimates suggest a new city hall could be built for less than it would cost to fully renovate the existing one.

One option would be to demolish the existing City Hall and build a new one on the same site. Doing so however would mean taking down an Edward Durell Stone design that is architecturally significant and unique to our area. But abandoning City Hall and building at a new location presents its own set of problems. The existing building needs millions of dollars worth of work. It has structural problems and its HVAC and electrical infrastructure need replacing. Finding a new tenant could be difficult. And renovating the existing structure is also problematic, in that it may be the most expensive option, the current layout of the building may not lend itself to functionality and efficiency, and the building has about 10,000 more square feet of space than the city thinks it needs.

The ultimate decision on how to resolve that dilemma is probably the most significant of the choices the city will have to make. It will have a major impact on the look and feel of downtown for generations to come.

Whatever the decision, in the end it is the people's building, not the government's or people who hold office. So we again encourage city residents to take advantage of the opportunity being provided by the city and make their opinions known.

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