By Roxie Hammill
They’ve been talking about it, off and on, since 1995. But as the city’s population grows and the current city hall turns 50, Overland Park’s city leaders have indicated that there is renewed interest in finding a long-term plan for the seat of city government.
City Manager Bill Ebel has advised city council members that there ought to be a plan for a new city hall by 2025. And earlier this year, council members were in talks about locating a new city hall at 95th and Metcalf – an idea that has yet to go anywhere.
Tonight, they’ll consider a related question: What improvements to make in the existing city hall, which has not had a significant update in 20 years.
The council is expected to vote tonight on a major remodeling project of the entryway and common area for the first and second floors. The bid by Rothwell Construction is for $699,000 and is on the consent agenda, meaning it is not expected to be controversial.
If approved, that amount will be added to the $160,000 that has already been spent on smaller changes to the reception area and the offices near the conference room where committees meet.
The work that will give the exterior entryway a new look, redo the stairs and upgrade the elevator. It will update landscaping, carpeting, paint and add security measures. Also in the project are changes that will make two restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
City Hall, at 8500 Santa Fe Drive, was originally built in 1968. An addition was put up in 1986, which is where the remodeling work will be. That includes the common area and front door. Restrooms in that area haven’t been updated since the addition was built, and the lobby was last redecorated 20 years ago, said city spokesman Sean Reilly.
About 185 people work in the 64,000-square-foot building. But although it hasn’t had extensive renovation, the building has been well maintained and doesn’t have the same kinds of functional problems as the Johnson County Courthouse, Reilly said.
Still, there have been a few growing pains. In 2014, the city council put some maintenance plans in the works for first floor that have already begun or been completed. Primarily, they reconfigured space to enlarge and add audio-visual technology to the conference room where council committees meet.
Enlarging the conference room meant reducing the size of some office and reception areas and changing furniture to fit in the smaller space. An office was also added for an intern and communication staff.
The remodeling is basically a stopgap while council members consider whether and where a new city hall should be built, say several council members.
In fact, a new city hall has been a conversation topic for years. Council members considered putting it on the list of future occupant for the W. Jack Sanders Justice Center campus at 12400 Foster Street back when that facility opened in 1995. And a city hall building at 95th and Metcalf was part of the Vision Metcalf long-range plan, said Council Member Paul Lyons.
Most recently, council members held executive sessions with LANE4 Property Group about the possibility of buying vacant French Market at the northeast corner of 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue for a new city hall.
But that idea needed more research to gain traction, Lyons said. He said his own preference was for putting a new city hall at the Justice Center, because it is closer to the geographical center of the city.
Some council members mentioned population trends as a driver of the discussion. As the population grows from 180,000 today to over 200,000 in coming years, more space will be needed to handle the work load, they said. Even with the use of the annex across from the current city hall, “space will become a challenge,” said council member Curt Skoog.
Improvements are necessary now because so far, a new building is not on the schedule, he added.
For the time being, a new building is still a ways in the future. Funding would have to be found and put in the five-year plan. And city leaders would have to decide what kind of a building they’d like to see. Lyons said the council would need to decide if a new Overland Park city hall would be comparable to the one Lenexa recently opened at its Civic Center. (Lenexa’s new city hall, which has been open less than a year, cost about $24.6 million, but it was part of a building that includes a public market and space for Park University.)
The current city hall will be part of a larger conversation about other city facilities, including fire stations, that also need to be updated, Skoog said.
As for the remodeling under consideration tonight, it will be worth the expense to keep the current building useful while the council decides, said Lyons.
“It’s important, for representing the city, for the city hall to be presentable,” he said.