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Council likely moving to St. Pat's

Council likely moving to St. Pat's

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The architect is moving ahead "full blast" on the Missoula City Council's plan to remodel their own chambers into a new Municipal Court.

But no one at this week's meeting of the council committee in charge seemed thrilled about it.

In early April, Judge Don Louden became so frustrated with the slow pace of the council's response to the court's dire need for space that he threatened to take over City Council Chambers and hired an architect to work on a design. What he really wanted was a space with room to grow - the Livingston Malletta & Geraghty funeral home on West Spruce Street, offered to the city for sale this spring.

The latest Council Chambers remodel plan, which architect John Wells showed the Administration and Finance Committee on Wednesday, allows for two courtrooms, offices for two judges and space for staff. It will serve the court probably three years, Louden guessed.

"This is the best for us, of the three that have been shown so far," he said. "Not that I like it."

Wells estimated the cost of the remodeling at $336,000. It will take eight months, he said. Construction could start in mid-August.

"We have been given direction to proceed full-blast on that," Wells said later.

Now what? committee members asked each other at the meeting.

A Space Needs Committee convened by City Council President Jack Reidy has been looking for other places for the council to meet on Monday nights and all day in committees on Wednesdays. The most likely place they'll land seems to be at St. Patrick Hospital. Rent will be $680 a month.

"It's a little depressing," said Councilwoman Lou Ann Crowley. "We're the ones who don't need a space, but we're moving. It's a mindblower.

"What would I think as a taxpayer? That the City Council has to go out and pay rent!"

The council is in this position because Municipal Court's workload has increased dramatically with Missoula's growth in population and in police force. It voted to buy the former Blue Heron nightclub on West Pine Street for the court and Missoula Redevelopment Agency offices late last summer. Since then, some council members changed their minds and swayed a majority to favor instead adding on to City Hall. The Blue Heron is for sale.

Louden became impatient after the council discussed it all fall, winter and spring without any nails being hammered. Now that his court will take over the council's room, the addition to City Hall would be for the council.

Wait a minute, Councilman John Engen told his colleagues in the committee.

"We've gone from buying the Blue Heron for the court to putting Municipal Court here and building an annex to house council chambers," he said. "That's a pretty far leap."

Councilman Don Nicholson, whose idea the annex was, still supports it.

"There is discussion among the council about the annex," he said. "And I'm comfortable having that conversation again. I think it's a sliced-bread idea."

Mayor Mike Kadas' administration has not been in favor of the annex, which it sees as hasty. There are needs for space throughout city government, he says, and they should all be considered before undertaking such a move. The space for an annex, on the south side of City Hall at the west end, is one of the spots that's been talked about for the proposed city-county justice building.

Janet Stevens Donahue, the city's chief administrative officer, asked the council Wednesday to hold off and build a well-planned annex that would serve the future needs of the entire city.

"The administration would advocate taking a breath here," she said, "holding off on the annex and doing a needs assessment. You have some time here."

On Wednesday morning, the council was looking for

$2.3 million for the over-budget aquatics project, Engen said. Shouldn't it be giving its

$1.5 million to that?

"Given our money needs," he said, "I'm not sure it makes sense."

However, said Councilman Myrt Charney, the council has made a decision and voted on a resolution in April to build a two-story, $1,544,000 annex onto City Hall.

"I keep hearing that we haven't made a decision," Charney said. "I thought we had made a decision."

Architect Wells estimates that a one-story annex with a council room and 1,000 feet of shell space would cost $988,000. A two-story annex that included the courts was previously estimated at $1.54 million.

Impact fees will pay for about half of the Municipal Court remodel in Council Chambers.

The one-story annex does not allow enough space for the Redevelopment Agency, which needs new offices. It is paying rent now and will soon move the focus of its work to newer urban renewal districts, where its cash flow will be less. The MRA earlier committed $350,000 to remodeling the Blue Heron. Director Ellen Buchanan and the staff and board have waited for the council's final plan.

On Wednesday, the committee asked Buchanan to reaffirm the MRA board's commitment to a different building at its meeting next week. MRA's participation would mean a two-story annex.

Buchanan expected to bring an answer from the board next week. The committee will continue the discussion next Wednesday.

No takers for the Blue Heron Building

When the monthlong bidding period for the Blue Heron Building in downtown Missoula closed, it didn't take long to open the envelopes.

The number of bids: zero.

During the time that the city of Missoula advertised the former nightclub on West Pine Street for sale, about half a dozen parties nosed around and picked up packets, said Doug Kueffler, project coordinator with the city's Public Works Department.

"I wasn't surprised, judging from the level of interest among the people who looked at it and asked for a packet," he said.

The minimum bid required was $545,000. That price is based on the money the city has put into the building from its purchase last August until now.

The city bought the closed nightclub with plans to remodel it into a new home for its Municipal Court and offices for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the city's urban renewal agency.

Estimates of remodeling costs ran higher than the amount budgeted, and some City Council members got worried about mold in the basement. A majority of council members then became enthusiastic about adding on to City Hall to accommodate the court instead.

Meanwhile, the city still owns the Blue Heron and wants to get the taxpayers' money out of it.

"We have a lot of expenses we've put into it that we'd like to recover," Kueffler said.

The cash price for the building, which was reduced to account for remediation of the mold in the basement, was $505,455.47. The city also paid the back taxes on the building, due for the period Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, of $7,276.71, rounding out the initial price to $512,732.18.

Since then, the Blue Heron's heat bill has been as much as $500 a month, Kueffler said. The city is paying for two phone lines for monitoring for fire prevention. Before NorthWestern Energy would turn on the gas in the fall for heat, all the gas lines in the kitchen had to be capped off, at the city's expense. The two rooftop units for heating and cooling had to have thermostatic units put into them to heat the building.

The city paid to have an old boiler sitting in gunk in the basement to be cut up and hauled off. It had to dispose of light fixtures that had PCBs in them, old soft drink syrup cylinders and old refrigeration units that had Freon gas in them. A pile of trash - old furniture and junk left in the building - 15 feet square and 4 feet high had to be hauled away; that brought dump fees at the landfill.

"The ballpark was we had to have $545,000 to get our money out of it," Kueffler said.

What to do next? That's politics, and that's not Kueffler's area. Mayor Mike Kadas is out of town. The next step will likely be discussed by City Council members.

Reporter Ginny Merriam can be reached at 523-5251 or at gmerriam@missoulian.com

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