The Covington City Council made a decisive move towards a new city hall after voting to begin the demolition process of the old Covington Elementary School Building.
The city and the Covington Police Department have been working towards a new city core site after purchasing 10 acres from the Kent School District for $3.9 million. The 10 acres are out of the school district’s original 16-acre plot. Part of the money used for the purchase came from a state grant.
Covington Mayor Pro-tem Sean Smith said in a previous interview with the Covington Reporter if the city creates a new city hall at the site there would be major savings, up to “tens of thousands of dollars,” since the city would not have to pay rent or make interest payments on a mortgage.
The city has been renting its current location since 2002 but is quickly running out of space. At the end of last summer, city staff and Covington Police Chief Andrew McCurdy toured the old Covington Elementary School and two portable buildings on the site. The portables were built in 1990, Smith said. The portables will need upgrades to the HVAC system and more, but officers could expect to move into the buildings in a few months.
“Currently the police do not have public access,” Covington City Manager Regan Bolli said in September. “So we aren’t able to give as good of public service.”
The police already started moving some of its training equipment and other items to the new site. Having the police move to the portables would free up space for city services at the current location while also providing a presence at the new site. Bolli said the city is dealing with broken windows and graffiti at the school so having the department there will deter vandals from creating more damage.
There are about six classrooms that could be used for offices, interview rooms, meeting rooms, private spaces for victims and suspects, and more.
“For the rest of the building we are considering demolition because it’s going to cost a lot more to renovate,” Smith said back in September. “The building has asbestos issues, the building right now has rodent issues, so it would be a lot of money to bring it up to code. So we are discussing what the best use of that resource is right now, and it looks like we might have to demolish it.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the city manager to execute a contract with Architects Rasmussen Triebelhorn for a demolition plan of the site’s main school buildings. The cost of the plan will be $70,047. The plans will help assess where there is asbestos along with water and gas lines for a safe and expedient demolition. Once the plan is created by Rasmussen Triebelhorn the city will take bids for the actual demolition of the building.
Councilmember Fran McGregor Hollums said the idea of keeping all the original buildings on the site was a “pipe dream,” after the council saw how much damage was done to the original school building.
“It was very disheartening to walk into the main building and see the graffiti and vandalism that is there, and I’m sure is taking place in a very, very nice facility,” Hollums said. “Just with all the things that have to be done to bring it up to code is just not financially feasible.”
Councilmember Joseph Cimaomo Jr. agreed with Hollums, saying it will be easier and more budget-friendly to demo the building and start from scratch.
“We all wish we could have used this property for something until we were ready to build,” Cimaomo said. “After that walkthrough, we all kind of got that sense that the $70,000 is nothing compared to what it would have cost to bring this building up to up to today’s standards.”
A MORATORIUM ON SELF-STORAGE BUSINESSES
In an unexpected addition to the agenda, the council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that will put a one-year moratorium on the development, creation or expansion of self-storage businesses in Covington.
Covington Community Development Director Gina Estep said the moratorium will give the city a pause while the planning department uses grant funds to audit and work on the city’s planning codes. The idea of the moratorium came from the council’s summit back in January, in hopes of creating businesses in the planned future downtown district.
“Currently, self-storage is allowed in both the mix commercial use and are mixed commercial zone and the general commercial zone. Both of these zones are located in your downtown zoning district,” Estep told the council on Monday. “It’s very clear in your comprehensive plan that … it is the intent to have an economically-vibrant, pedestrian-oriented downtown. A downtown that really offers kind of a plethora or a real dynamic mix of jobs and employment opportunities for the community.”
Estep said self-storage businesses usually employ one person per acre. The audit of the city’s planning codes will take nearly a year, so the moratorium will give the planning department a pause while it works on the city’s codes.
According to state law, the city must have a public hearing on the moratorium in 60 days.
Estep explained the audit will help the city change over to what she called “formed-based codes.”
“Basically it’s a zoning approach to regulate development based on form and function over the intended use,” Estep said. “So, the concept is what creates that vibrant energy that you’re looking for and in downtown, which is really about how the spaces and buildings interact and interact with pedestrians and what have you, versus … the current kind of zoning approach. It isn’t really focused on use. So, I see it coming down in potentially a hybrid because you’re still going to have to consider services that you might not feel appropriate in a downtown. But it will really orient more to form and function.”
Estep said there are about five or six self-storage businesses already functioning within the city limits.
Councilmember Smith said he approved of the moratorium because the issue of self-storage businesses in Covington was an issue he heard about on the campaign trail and something he wanted to curb if the city is going to create the downtown the city is envisioning.
“This is one issue that I did hear on the campaign trail. People were asking about the growth and expansion of self-service storage. I think this moratorium responds to the public’s concerns but also gives us enough time to really consider this and look at the direction and vision we have for our community and how these facilities fit with it. So I think it’s a prudent action that we’re taking,” he said.
Other councilmembers agreed, saying they wish to see businesses in the downtown district that will employ more residents and bring consistent business to the area.