Wolfert put the issue very simply last night: "You're getting a $15 million building for $5 million."
Um... not so fast, Mr. Architect!
The Mt. Pleasant taxpayers who showed up to watch the Village Board choose between their architects' three options -- a 75,000 sq. ft. village hall/police station/community and court complex costing $15.5 million, a scaled back 65,000 sq. ft. version costing $13.1 million or a 50,000 sq. ft. version costing $10.5 million -- had another idea...or two:
Spend no more than the $10 million donated to the village for the project. Oh, and what about the Public Works Department; why isn't space for them included in this project? And what about the village's rule that any project costing more than $10 million has to go before a referendum?
Taxpayer after taxpayer stood up at the joint meeting of the Village Board and the Building Committee -- a meeting ostensibly called to set a budget so the architects can design the complex, so it can be put out to bid while contractors are hungry for work (and presumably willing to work cheap), so -- ultimately -- the village can break ground in March and vacate its existing municipal complex by February 2011 as its sales contract with Pick 'n Save requires.
Citizens weren't buying. Ultimately, Village President Carolyn Milkie bowed to will of taxpayers present and put off the decision until the board and committee meet again, next Monday at 6 p.m. Getting to that point was often heated, as the board engaged in a dialogue with many of the 40 or so citizens who filled the meeting room. They sat attentively as Wolfert, and Stephen Kuhnen of Bray Associates Architects, showed two concept drawings of the project, which will be built on land the village bought along 90th Street: one a one-story building and the other two-stories. In both versions, the village hall and police station flank community space in the middle.
"These are just space concepts," Kuhnen explained. "We need budget parameters in place, so we can get our hands around how big this project will be." The $15.5 million plan included a 14,387 sq. ft. village hall, 47,164 sq. ft. police station and 13,914 sq. ft. shared space with courtroom. (The present village hall has 9,000 sq. ft; the current police station has 12,000 sq. ft.) Architects suggested a "geothermal" heating and cooling system -- "higher initial cost but lower operating cost with energy efficiencies. But the niceties of design didn't concern the audience. Rather, they were focused on cost ... and whether the village's population growth required anything nearly as big, as expensive, as is being considered. They weren't at all shy about lecturing the board.
"I'm ashamed of our supervisors," said Maynard Olson. "You should be ashamed of yourselves." His point was that the board "was not honoring" the $10 million gift it received for the new village hall, by spending more than was given. "We're in a recession, and there are a lot of people in a depression."
Robert Strausser said the project is "very irresponsible," especially in a time when the village has a hiring freeze and not enough firemen. "Our services stink," he said, adding that once the new complex is built "are we going to hire more people? Will we have an increased levy, an increased mill rate, increased fees?"
Tom Meltzer called the project "a grandiose plan. We can do things incrementally. There'll be a wallowing economy for many years to come."
Dave Chorbajian said, "The Highway Department has to be included, because you're eliminating it when you close this building." He also said the village's timeline "is oppressive. You should have involved us sooner."
Seetha Denzien spoke about the "fantastic" $10 million gift. "We should not look down our noses at it; we should live within that gift, just as I have to live within my budget. We're asking that you stay within that gift."
Each of these comments -- and others along the same lines -- was met with applause from the audience, even as members of the building committee tried to defend the complex. Trustee Joe Clementi insisted that replacement of the village hall complex "is beyond necessary" and has been debated for 15 years. He spoke in favor of the 75,000 sq. ft. version -- arrived at after consultation with village employees -- but audience members responded with comments like "crazy," "it's too expensive," and "go back to the drawing board." Said Eleanor Boyd: "You've had your listening sessions, but you don't listen. We need more taxes like we need another hole in the head."
"It really looks huge," said Mike Denzien, who said the size was determined by staff "doing their wishlists."
Clementi, however, said "there's no question the existing facilities are beyond out-dated" and "we can do this without raising taxes." He toted up $17 million available: the $10 million gift, the $4.5 million sale price of the existing village hall complex and $2-$3 million in interest ... but those figures were disputed; all but $400,000 of the sales price is committed to a road project, for example, and the interest figure appears inflated as well.
Trustee Karen Albeck supported those in the audience who want to limit the project's cost. "I'd like to see us live within our budget, and not levy any new taxes," she said. And it was Trustee Sonny Havn who first suggested the board and building committee take some more time, "not too much more," to look again at how much space the village needs -- and how much it wants to spend.
Many in the audience said they plan to attend next week's meeting as well, and also questioned the legal opinion of village attorney John Shannon that no referendum is required. Village ordinances require one -- advisory, though it would be -- for any project costing more than $10 million. But Shannon's opinion, read by Milkie at the start of last night's meeting, says that a vote is only needed when more than $10 million of village funds are being spent -- and since this project is partially financed by that $10 million gift, well, it doesn't fall over that figure. It's a fine point that some hope to challenge.