An ad-hoc committee charged with prioritizing the fate of public facilities in the Haines Borough is investigating how much it would cost to design and build a new structure containing the fire hall, jail, dispatch center, assembly chambers, government offices and possibly the visitor’s center.
The building would go in the area of the existing public safety building.
The Facilities Master Plan Steering Committee on Monday directed the borough administration to ask Anchorage-based engineering firm McCool Carlson Green to provide a cost estimate for such a structure.
The recommendation to consolidate borough buildings in the name of reduced costs and increased energy efficiency came from McCool Carlson Green in a recently completed facility planning report.
Executive assistant to the borough manager Darsie Culbeck said he will ask for an estimate on the complex with and without a visitor’s center included in the mix, as several committee members voiced concerns that having a jail or fire hall connected to a visitor center was not appropriate.
“I’m sure if we brought (tourism director Tanya Carlson) in here, she’d be like, ‘So there might be a siren going off or an ambulance coming in, and my visitors are coming on cruise ship day?’” committee member Steve Vick said.
The committee discussed rehabilitating the public safety building, but committee member Lenise Henderson Fontenot said she couldn’t get behind that idea, even if the structure’s most significant problems – like its rotting foundation – were addressed.
“I just really can’t support going forward with (the current public safety) building unless we absolutely have to because we don’t have the money (for a new structure). If we don’t have the money to do anything else, then that’s just reality and that’s what we need to do. I still think we would have a building that doesn’t work, that now maybe has a foundation that’s not rotting and maybe it’s more energy efficient, but the guts still don’t work,” Henderson Fontenot said.
Mayor Stephanie Scott urged the committee to consolidate government services in one building so employees could see one another every day. Proximity would help increase organization and decrease communication errors between departments and personnel, Scott said. “I think that we’ve become far too fragmented in our approach to government, and that government works better when people can work together,” she said.
The question of where the money would come from to pay for the building arose when committee member Patty Campbell asked how such a project would affect taxpayers. Scott, though, said she didn’t think finding the money would be an issue.
“I don’t think it’s a problem. I mean, we could even bond if we wanted to. We could do it ourselves if we believe in the idea. I’m not worried about the money. I think this is a need that the community collectively has identified and I think that we’ll make it happen, because we want it to happen,” Scott said.
The committee agreed that if the estimate came back and generated significant “sticker shock,” it could ask for an estimate on its second choice: buying John Floreske’s vacant building near 1 Mile Haines Highway, turning that into a fire hall, and erecting a new building for government offices and assembly chambers near the old public safety building.
Public facilities director Carlos Jimenez said fireman Al Badgley and fire chief Scott Bradford have expressed misgivings about Floreske’s building due to its periphery location. Poor water pressure at the site has also been raised as a concern, Mayor Scott said.
Culbeck said there is $19,700 remaining of the initial $75,000 allocation devoted to the master plan project, but he could not say how much it would cost for McCool Carlson Green to produce the design and construction estimate for the complex.
Manager Mark Earnest has recommended more than $150,000 in improvements to public facilities as part of his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The $150,000 includes $40,000 for new roofing at the administration building, $50,000 for a new boiler and other improvements to the visitor’s center, and $50,000 for phone and electrical upgrades to the public safety building.
Earnest said while the committee’s task is deciding how to prioritize what public facilities need the most work and how much, these capital improvements are necessary to maintain functioning facilities. “Some of these just have to be done,” Earnest said.
The borough is “very conscious of the future,” Earnest said. He pointed out even if the visitor center is demolished in upcoming years, the boiler would still be able to be removed and used elsewhere.