La Center plans a larger City Hall

Former bank building to be renovated, current site to house public works

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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La Center City Hall is a matchbox of a municipal building, too compact to comfortably accommodate city business, officials say.

“The current City Hall is extremely cramped,” City Councilor Al Luiz said. “Extremely cramped.”

City employees work out of half-offices. Storage space is practically nonexistent. Despite the building’s previous life as a smoke-filled tavern, it’s nonetheless seen better days.

So in the coming weeks, the city will go out to bid on a project that will renovate a 3,000-square-foot former bank, turning it into the new City Hall building. The public works department will then move from its rented building on East Cedar Avenue to the current City Hall, located on East Fourth Street.

Luiz said there’s more to the project than simply renovating the former First Independent Bank at Northwest Pacific Highway into a new home for city business.

For one, moving the public works department from its rented building will save the city $30,000 a year.

More than that: The building’s price was right. In 2012, the city bought it for $475,000, an enticing amount considering it will fit with the city’s long-term plans, Luiz said. Those include ripping up right of way near the building to construct a traffic-calming roundabout at East Fourth Street and La Center Road. Money will be available for the project through the state Transportation Improvement Board.

The city has budgeted $112,000 for the renovation, which officials say will likely wrap up midsummer.

The new City Hall may only be a temporary solution, Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said, and the city isn’t banking on staying in the new building for long.

“This is not the long-term solution to the space needs,” Sarvis said.

The city’s long-term plans will depend on future development and whether the city can add more money to its coffers.

Renovating the building will consist of making minor changes to the former bank’s façade and interior. New schematics have been drawn up by Terraforma, a Portland-based architectural firm.

The question of how to wring more space out of city-owned buildings has been on La Center’s radar since 2006, when the city conducted an environmental review of its growth plans.

But following the collapse of the real estate market spurred by the early stages of the Great Recession in 2008, La Center’s growth tapered off. From 2000 to 2012, the city’s population increased from 1,654 to 2,985, a 70-percent bump, with most of the growth happening before 2007.

The city expects to stay in the renovated bank building for at least seven years, Sarvis said.

And not all city business will be conducted in the new building: City Council meetings will continue to take place within council chambers at the existing City Hall.

Looking ahead, Sarvis said, the city would like to construct a brand-new City Hall — a building that could support administrative staff, public works employees and the police department.

That will happen only if La Center sees significant development growth in the future, Sarvis said, securing more money for the city.

“The city has a lot of needs,” he said, “but there are only so many dollars.”


Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.