Out of last week’s Administration and Finance Committee meeting, it has been proposed that council take action at the next meeting whether or not to proceed with the demolition of borough hall and the police station. This will make way for a new borough hall/police station complex.
This proposal came out of a facilities and grounds study done by architects Spiezle and Associates. They have concluded that Lansdale Borough Hall and the police station are in dire need of renovation and updating, and they presented four different options for renovating and updating these two buildings. Their plans range from simply repairing deficiencies and therefore, keeping the two buildings intact, to building a new police station and keeping the old borough hall to demolishing both buildings and starting from scratch. Needless to say, the last recommendation has caused quite a stir here in town (I think most people, including myself, agree that a new police station does make sense).
Demolishing borough hall, in particular, strikes a nerve because it is a historic building in town and as we all know, Lansdale has not done well when it comes to preserving old buildings. In fact, one of the most stinging criticisms here in Lansdale is that we have bulldozed just about every historic structure in Borough — the Tremont, the Eitherton, the Theater, the Longacker, the Bienacker, the list goes on an on.
In speaking with my resident elders, I know that it was with great pride that One Vine Street was dedicated as Lansdale’s new borough hall in 1988. Twenty-five years have gone by since then and like our homes it needs updating and repair work, but demolishing? That is a question the residents must answer. And in contrast to the buildings named above which were private property, borough hall belongs to ALL of us residents.
The architectural firm, Spiezle and Associates, was contracted to do a facilities study in order to independently and objectively assess the condition of Lansdale’s structures. I understand this rationale to a certain extent. What I don’t understand is that borough council will be voting in two weeks to decide if Spiezle will also be contracted to provide the architectural plans for the borough.
If this is the case, then they just wrote their own ticket. According to laws of the State of Pennsylvania, professional services — such as a architectural, engineering and legal — do not have to go out to bid. Our borough manager can simply recommend any professional with council’s approval (that includes consultants which we have had our fair share of). My point here is that there are no competing estimates or proposals; we simply have to accept Spiezle’s recommendation. Are there other ideas out there with lower estimates? We don’t know. As a business (and the borough likes to say that we should operate more like a business) considering a large project, typically a minimum of three estimates is recommended. In the case of the construction and/or repairs of borough hall, we have only one estimate which is from Spiezle and Associates.
For example, according to Spiezle’s facilities and grounds assessment on page 19 it is stated that, “Additionally, the borough manager does not have private restroom facilities so he/she must use the public restroom through the lobby.” This may be a cheap shot, but does the borough manager really need his or her own bathroom? Are there other issues in the Facilities and Grounds Study that need a second look? Other items that are perhaps, nice but not necessary? I am an elected official, and I have an obligation to the taxpayer and not to staff.
On a more philosophical level, I will ask this question: How does spending lavishly on a new borough hall improve the lives of the average Lansdale resident? As a resident, I want my toilets to flush, my lights and heat to work, my roads to be relatively smooth and my community safe and my taxes commensurate. In 1970, Lansdale’s population was 18,451. That is 2,182 MORE than in 2010. There were no computers back then AND the Borough functioned in a smaller space at 421 West Main Street. How is it that now in 2013, we have outgrown our current borough hall? (By the way, the average attendance by the public to borough hall meetings is 13) Could the answer be an ever expanding bureaucracy?
Finally, I have heard time and again from the administration that the borough needs to invest in itself or no one else will. Do people flock to Doylestown for their borough hall? For that matter, has Pottstown’s new borough hall revitalized the their downtown? Will a new borough hall improve my property values and entice businesses to come to Lansdale?
These are important questions that need to be asked before we commit to spending a lot of money on a project that has debatable benefits to the average tax payer. As always, I welcome your thoughts and if you feel strongly either way about this issue, please contact me or your borough representative.
Check out Lansdale Councilman Denton Burnell's response to this blog at this link.