Bill to fix up Camas annex balloons

City budgeted $400,000 for project, but estimates put cost shy of $1 million

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The current Camas City Hall is "bursting at the seams," according to city leaders. A new annex building, located just across the street from the current city hall, on Northeast Fourth Avenue in downtown Camas, will serve as a permit center and alleviate overcrowding at the main city hall building. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Camas City Council members are poised to approve nearly $1 million worth of renovations that will alleviate overcrowding at Camas City Hall.

At the Council’s Sept. 3 workshop, Camas City Administrator Pete Capell updated councilors on renovation plans at the city’s new “annex building,” located adjacent to city hall in downtown Camas.

The city purchased the 9,000-square-foot former Bank of America property at 528 N.E. Fourth Ave., as well as the site’s 0.46-acre property, for $1.6 million in December 2018, and had budgeted for $400,000 in renovation costs.

Nearly nine months later, those renovation costs have more than doubled to more than $990,000.

“We budgeted $2 million for the purchase and remodel,” said City Councilwoman Deanna Rusch at the Sept. 3 workshop. “Why are we so much over?”

Capell said many of the higher-than-anticipated renovation costs stemmed from unexpected heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) needs inside the former Bank of America building.

“It was just a very rough estimate,” Capell said of the city’s initial $400,000 estimate for renovating the annex building.

When staff from the Vancouver-based LSW Architects firm met with city department heads to get a list of needs, Capell said the final tally on “all the things people thought would be valuable at city hall” came to nearly $5 million.

“We called a time-out and said, ‘Let’s figure out how we can do it much less expensively,'” said Capell.

“The early estimates were before we hired an architect,” Capell told the Post-Record this week. “As soon as we started meeting with the architect, we realized the costs we had were too low. We have scaled back from the original architect’s efforts to get down below $1 million. It should turn into an excellent permit center.”

Additionally, Capell told councilors, the purchase price for the annex building was higher than anticipated.

“We were supposed to pay $1.5 million, but then it ended up being $1.6 million,” Capell said.

The higher price stemmed from a bidding war with Riverview Bank.

That bidding war caused some controversy in 2018, with a state legislator complaining the city had misused its ability to threaten condemnation and the property owners — which included the vice chairman of Riverview Community Bank’s Board of Directors — disclosing the city’s bid to Riverview. At the time, Capell called the disclosure “very unethical and not very fair.”

“The asking price was $1.5 million,” Capell told the Post-Record in 2018. “There’s no doubt we paid more than the appraised value, but we think the property has a long-term value.”

The city finalized the deal in December 2018 and have been working with LSW Architects to come up with a plan that will, according to Capell and Camas Mayor Shannon Turk, alleviate overcrowding at the current city hall building.

“We needed more space, not only for new staff, but to accommodate the growth the city is planning in the North Shore area,” Turk told the Post-Record in December 2018. “Building a new city hall would cost 30 to 40 million dollars, so this saves the city millions.”

Current plans call for the city’s fire marshal’s office, which now leases space outside city hall, to move into the new annex building.

If councilors approve the $990,498 renovation plan at their Sept. 16 or Oct. 7 city council meeting, the new annex building will house five offices — two for public works, one for development review, one for the building department and one for the city’s planning department; as well as three meeting rooms, four “breakout rooms,” a 168-square-foot work room, two restrooms, a vestibule and lobby area and spaces for development review engineering, planning and community development, building and community development and fire marshal office staff.

The new design also calls for a revamped reception/greeting area. Capell said the current City Hall reception area can be confusing for visitors.

“We often have citizens come into the lobby and they don’t know where they’re going so they’ll go to (human resources) or the fire chief’s office because there are signs, but it’s not real clear,” Capell said, adding that the plan for the new reception area will “be in the main area, so it’s clear where you’re going.”

Turk told city councilors she realized the costs were over the $400,000 city leaders had budgeted for the annex renovations, but thought there was a solution for funding the nearly $1 million renovation price tag.

Since the annex will house the city’s permit center and be largely development-related — and considering much of the city’s reserve fund is due to development building fees — Turk said she would propose city councilors pull the extra $600,000 from the city’s reserves.

“We would use funding that is pretty much from development to help the development community,” Turk said.

The $600,000 would still leave the city’s reserve fund hovering around 22 percent of the city’s budget, Turk added, which is still higher than city leaders’ preferred 17-percent reserve fund.

Councilors Don Chaney and Greg Anderson both said they would be fine with that funding proposal.

“I like the approach of using some of the reserve money,” Chaney said. “It may not be an emergent need, but it is to manage growth here … and I really support that.”

Capell said he would bring the renovations contract before the Council at either the Sept. 16 or Oct. 7 regular council meeting. Both of those meetings begin at 7 p.m., inside Camas City Hall Council Chambers at 616 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.