As the air conditioner pumped frigid air into the already cold council room, with water splotches creeping ever bigger on the ceiling above their heads, Quincy city councilors discussed the prospect of moving out of Old City Hall.
“There are serious problems here,” City Solicitor Jim Timmins said to the council during a meeting last week.
According to officials, the Holmes & Edwards architectural firm has been conducting a study of the 167-year-old building this year. A preliminary study, costing $45,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, showed that extensive repairs were necessary.
Between the masonry, windows, roof, to the heating, lighting, and building code violations, the building is in such bad shape that all operations within Old City Hall, including the Clerk’s Office and Council Chambers, will be moved out of the building on July 16.
All this maneuvering will not come cheap.
In addition to the money already expended on a preliminary study, the council has had to secure additional funds from CPA to design plans to fix the building.
The city also has spent nearly $190,000 in the past year to lease a space for files in the Monroe Building, located at 1245 Hancock St.
The entire building will be leased for $190,000 this upcoming year from Grossman Monroe Trust, and will house all of the operations being moved out of Old City Hall.
It was a cost that had some councilors shaking their heads.
“You said [a move] was necessary and urgent. That’s good and understandable, but it would have been helpful to have a more robust discussion before the council [before entering into the lease],” Councilor Douglas Gutro said. “The other question would be are there not any other public locations that would be useful, buildings we own as a city?”
Although the city does own buildings that operations could have been transferred to, Timmins said that none of them could compare to the location of the Monroe Building.
Located just across the way from the current City Hall, the former bank was the best choice, Timmins said, even if it will cost the city money.
“We don’t want to have City Hall spread out across the city. We’re just trying to keep everything in McIntyre Mall. It just seemed convenient,” Timmins said.
In addition to the cost, where the lease money had come from was also troubling to the council.
Taken out of a $3 million capital improvement bond the city first utilized in 2007, councilors felt the money should not have been used for that purpose, and taking it out of the debt-service line of the budget seemed disingenuous.
“It does have the appearance that bond money is being utilized for operational costs that is not being reflected in one fiscal year, but is in the next. It’s a dangerous precedent,” Councilor Joseph Finn said.
“If we have a problem classifying that payment correctly, what else are we paying that isn’t classified correctly?” Councilor Brian McNamee said. “This speaks to the heart of the transparency issue. We can’t understand what is being done operationally by the city when the city does this.”
Timmins said the council had been fully aware of the move, and the last-minute nature of the lease, and where the money came from, was done out of necessity.
“There is much work to be done still on the future City Hall, how to finance it, but with this move, we felt it was prudent at the time,” agreed Chief of Staff James Fatseas.
As for the work to City Hall itself, total cost for the project would be discussed at a future council meeting, Timmins said.
Although financing for the project has yet to be discussed, Timmins predicted that the city might take out a bond and fund that bond payment every year with CPA money.