La Center unsure about city hall move

Relocating to former bank site owned by city would not address lack of space, traffic issues

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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La Center is looking to stall plans to move its City Hall into an empty bank building it owns, as officials rethink the city's long-term space needs.

In April, the city proposed spending $112,000 to renovate the 3,000 square-foot building, the former home of First Independent Bank. The city bought the building and its adjacent property, located at 305 N.W. Pacific Highway, in 2012 for $475,000.

City officials said there's now the perception that moving City Hall to the bank building would be a short-term fix to the municipal building's lack of space — one that could needlessly cost the city.

"No matter how much money you spend, it's a temporary fix to a permanent problem," Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said.

The permanent problem is a stamp-sized City Hall, which can't accommodate growth, and a similarly small bank building, which wouldn't relieve the city's future growing pains very much.

Still, the bank property was seen in April as an enticing — and relatively cheap — stopgap for La Center, considering the city already owned it. When the city announced its intention to proceed with the move last spring, officials said city council meetings would still take place at the existing City Hall.

But the primary reason the city purchased the bank property was so it would have enough right of way to move forward with traffic-calming projects on the city's main drag.

Sarvis said it's time for the city to discuss its growth plans. La Center last performed an environmental review in 2006.

Mayor Jim Irish said it's unclear when the city will readdress plans for the bank building or how to develop a larger City Hall.

The intersection of Northwest Pacific Highway and East Fourth Street sees about 12,000 vehicles per day, Sarvis said, in a city of about 3,000 people. It's a popular turnoff point to reach La Center High School.

Tentative plans call for the city to install a roundabout at the intersection. What's known as a "slip lane" — an exclusive right-turn lane — could be part of the proposal.

The city expects the traffic projects will cost $900,000. They likely won't move forward until 2017 or 2018, Sarvis said.

He said the city anticipates using grants to pay for transportation projects but hasn't been awarded any.

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