The Times West Virginian

October 15, 2013

Fairmont exploring new complex

Rogers: Present site ‘has run its course from a growth standpoint’

By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The City of Fairmont is exploring the possibility of creating a new municipal complex.

“It appears that our time in that building (the J. Harper Meredith Building) has run its course from a growth standpoint,” City Manager Jay Rogers said.

According to Rogers, the third floor of the building can no longer meet the needs of the city, which is why officials are researching the idea of relocation.

“It’s a building that was built in the 1980s when there wasn’t a lot of foresight for the growth of the city,” Rogers said.

Rogers said that the current location cannot accommodate needs such as parking, security, storage and additional personnel.

City officials met with representatives of Omni Associates, an architectural firm, and Terradon Corp., which provides engineering services, during a work session Monday evening to discuss the project.

“The main reason for us being here tonight is to establish a project vision, goals and objectives,” Richard Forren, principal/senior project architect for Omni Associates, said.

Rogers said Omni Associates will help the city determine the most viable option for proceeding with the project.

“Omni is tasked with taking us through the process and looking at either the renovation of a current building in downtown or the construction of a building at a new site,” he said.

Omni Associates will work with Terradon to evaluate possible locations based on factors such as accessibility, visibility, location to other entities and more.

City officials laid out specific goals for the new complex at Monday’s meeting.

According to councilman Dan Weber, safety is a major priority.

“The goal, at least for me, is to be very safe and secure wherever we’re working,” Weber said.

Eileen Layman, City of Fairmont finance director, said customer service is also something to consider.

“We need to improve customer service,” she said. “We need to improve the flow of the customers throughout the building, and we need to make it more accessible to our customers.”

City Planner Kathy Wyrosdick said that by relocating, the city would benefit from an improved sense of identity.

“One goal of ours is to have something to identify that we are the City of Fairmont,” she said.

Weber said that sense of identity would also help eliminate confusion among residents.

“It’s very important for people to know where their municipal house is,” he said.

Council members also expressed the desire for the council chambers — where city council meetings are held — to be located in the new complex. Currently, city offices are located in the J. Harper Meredith Building, while council meetings take place in the Public Safety Building.

Weber added that if council chambers were in the same location as the city offices, it would create a more welcoming environment for citizens.

“We want a place where good governance can take place and people can participate in their government,” he said.

Another priority would be the sustainability of the new complex.

“I would like to see us have a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified building,” councilman Travis Blosser said.

Wyrosdick said that while that certification may mean an increase in costs up front, it would be wiser in the long run.

“I think energy efficiency makes us better stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” she said.

Other goals for the project include enhancing the departments’ abilities to function effectively, creating sufficient space for parking, keeping flexibility for expansion in mind, using building materials that will result in the structure’s longevity and possessing an outdoor space for community use.

Rogers said Omni Associates will continue to seek input from city officials and staff and will then come up with a few choices that meet those specific goals. After those options are presented, the city will then start comparing options in relation to cost.

“What we’re looking at doing right now under this task order is getting to point where we have one to two options for renovating a building and one to two options for building a new building, and then they will give us an estimate based on square footage and construction costs,” Rogers said.

At that point, the city will be able to start making decisions as far as which option would be most logical and affordable.

According to Rogers, there are a few different possible sources for the project’s funding. Rogers said the city could sell the third floor of the J. Harper Meredith Building and that there could be small allocations from the water or sewage funds if some of those department functions would be located in the new complex.

In addition, if the city chooses to renovate a historical building for the new complex, money could be obtained through the sale of historic tax credits.

Grant funding could also be a possibility depending on which building or site would be selected for the complex.

Rogers said that cost will certainly play a factor as to which option is selected, but it will not deter the city from making the move entirely.

“Could there be a point when we say ‘Whoa, that’s too much money’? Yes. But I don’t think that stops us from finding out how we move toward relocation,” he said. “The goals council has can’t be achieved in that building.”

Email Kaylyn Christopher at kchristopher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.