City officials are hoping to have a better idea on which way to go toward a new city building following a conference session scheduled to follow Monday's regular meeting of Portsmouth City Council.
There has been talk of the need for a new structure the past five or six years, but no positive action taken as of yet.
A building committee is expected to make recommendations to council members during the conference session, council President Howard Baughman said last week.
Baughman said one option under consideration is to sell the existing building and land to a developer, and use the money toward the purchase a new building. He said officials are looking at a couple of properties that appear to be suitable.
Another consideration is to raze the building and put a new one up on the site.
The building is old and in poor shape in a number of areas. Two years ago, a consulting engineer, Lock One Inc., concluded proper repair of the building probably is not economically feasible.
The delay in making a decision about getting a better and safer city building prompted a letter last month from Councilman Bob Mollette to Mayor Jim Kalb. He urged the mayor to "take action and seek guidance from appropriate departments" to have a thorough inspection, document the findings, and take whatever corrective actions required to keep workers and the general public safe while in the building.
"Personal injury to workers or citizens as a result of negligence on the part of the city must be avoided," Mollette wrote. "The excuse of not taking corrective action based on the unknown future of the building is not defensible when safety is in question and when the degraded conditions of our city building are due to ongoing neglect."
Municipal Court Judge Russ Kegley's courtroom also serves as council chambers. A section of ceiling is peeling right over the judge's bench, and last month a small chunk of ceiling fell as a council meeting was adjourning.
Kegley accused Mollette of being hypocritical in his letter if he's "intimating that somehow it is the mayor's fault that nothing has been done to protect those who work in and visit the building."
In a letter to the Daily Times, the judge said "the incessant dawdling of the council (of which Mr. Mollette has been a member for several years now) and its fear of making and refusal to make ANY decision in regard to facilities has been the true problem."
In a Feb. 22 answer to Mollette's letter, the mayor said conditions and problems with the building constantly are being monitored. He said that should be evident to Mollette because of a "walk through" report he sent the councilman a copy of.
Kalb listed a number of problems associated with the aging building. He said temperature is controlled by opening and closing windows in winter, and electrical equipment is used by first shutting down other equipment to prevent overloading circuits.
Other deficiencies he mentioned included sweeping hallways and offices almost continuously to clear the floors of chipping paint and plaster; a fear pipes will burst when water is turned on; and lighting that's less than adequate.
He said all offices are in need of cosmetic improvements and some doors are chained at night, because the locks don't work.
Also, computer and communication wires "are strung everywhere because of the near impossible task of drilling through the thick concrete walls."
He said utility bills are excessive because of the inefficient design and components of the structure.
Kalb said the cost for remodeling or new construction has more than doubled since City Council first took steps toward new offices about six years ago.
"The delays, indecision and constant debating (by some members of the council) have increased the cost to taxpayers between $4 million to $8 million, depending on council's final choice for offices," he said.
The thing that galls him more than the financial cost increase, he said, is citizens "have lost faith in their elected officials to make a responsible decision and move forward."
Two other options under consideration are to remodel or build a new building on the Washington Street site of the former Adelphia Communications Building, and to remodel the former Marting's department store building.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.