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'Time to hit the pause button': Councilor says Eugene City Hall project 'out of control'

The City moved ahead with demolition of the old City Hall last year. But reducing the building to a flat, gravel lot went $1 million over budget. (SBG Photo)

EUGENE, Ore. - The projected cost to build the first phase of a new Eugene City Hall continues to climb, and Lane County wants to further bargain with the City on a downtown land swap.

Now Councilor George Brown, in his final months in office, says it's time to stop and re-evaluate the Eugene City Hall project.

"Is it a vanity project? It's starting to look like that," Brown said Tuesday. "I think the process is so out of control now that it's time to hit the pause button, seriously, and I mean for months."

The City moved ahead with demolition of the old City Hall last year. But reducing the building to a flat, gravel lot went $1 million over budget.

Projected costs for the budgeted $17.85 million project have continued to grow, with some estimates of the total project now pushing $28 million, including demolition, design and construction.

The cost to build just the new City Hall building itself was bid at $18.2 million, $3 million more than earlier projections, the City said.

The gap in funding for the projects stands somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million.

"Several of the Council members communicated wanting to proceed deliberately but quickly, you know: time is money. But at the same time, rushing ahead isn't cost effective, either," said Mike Penwell, the City's facilities construction manager. "As part of the work with the Council we would have to identify additional potential funding sources to fill the gap - if they want to go that direction."

The building would house the Council chambers and City Manager's office. Other City of Eugene departments that had been housed in the former City Hall would remain in rented office space across town, according to the plan. A second building could be built in the future to house

"We're aiming really high on this and really wanting to hit the mark for community values, council values," Penwell said.

Brown thinks the City needs to hold off and put the project back out to bid this winter.

"They'll be looking for work. The projects they're working on now will be finished. They'll be looking for work and we will see lower bids," he predicted. "It's just - it's irresponsible to plunge ahead with this project, in my view, because it's almost twice the original budget, and that is unacceptable."

The City and County will meet Thursday to discuss a possible land swap for the butterfly parking lot west of the Courthouse. The property could factor into planned park block and farmers market improvements that the City wants to pursue. The County wants part of the former City Hall land for a possible future County building.

Brown called the land swap complex.

"That doesn't mean me can't figure it out," he said, "but we will not be able to figure it out in an hour and a half at Thursday's meeting with the County Commissioners."

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