Rehoboth Beach officials now have schematic plans for a new City Hall complex. The question now is, where do they go from here?
One big step, Mayor Sam Cooper said, is to obtain a credit rating before attempting to borrow money to pay for the $15 million project.
“Before we present a final plan, we have to have a funding plan,” Cooper said. “Traditional bond issue is the most likely way to go.”
The rating, he said, would be informal and not public, but it would serve as a planning tool to help the city commissioners move forward.
Cooper said the city’s first action towards that should be to put out a request for proposals for a financial advisor to guide the commissioners through the process.
Once the city’s credit is rated, Cooper said the city would hold a referendum, asking for voter approval to borrow the money.
“It’s all about the borrowing of the money, it’s not the project itself. Clearly, to get a positive vote we would have to sell this to the electorate. But it’s a needed project, and the city will benefit by it,” Cooper said.
The commissioners must also authorize spending $240,000 budgeted for architectural work to further refine the project. Cooper said the commissioners could vote on that as early as the Friday, Sept. 19 meeting.
The plan calls for a two-story building with a basement and an attic, with space for storage, police training and locker rooms. Architect Mike Wigley said the City Hall Master Plan Task Force, which worked with Wigley and contractor EDiS Co. on the project, wanted a building that was easy to navigate, identifiable but not pretentious, open and inviting and could fit all major city departments under one roof.
“We want to create a campus-like facility,” Wigley said.
The first floor would contain the 9-1-1 center, most of the police department and the city administrative offices. The second floor will have the commissioners’ room, building and licensing, Alderman’s Court and police offices.
One of the last things the task force settled on was the design of the eastern corner, which will contain a breakout meeting room to be used for executive sessions or as a conference room. The original design resembled an air-traffic control tower, but the design was streamlined with a sloped roof and brick exterior, matching the rest of the building. Wigley said the corner element was inspired by the sloped roof design of old camp meeting ground houses; the building was based partly on the sand-colored brick of the Rehoboth Beach Public Library.
The plan also calls for renovating the convention center lobby; no changes are planned for the convention center itself. The parking lots and entrances to the building will be flipped: public parking and the convention center entrance will be relocated to the eastern side of the building with the west lot used for police and employee parking. The building’s Rehoboth Avenue entrance will be closer to the front sidewalk.
Wigley said demolition of the existing building could be handled in two phases: the administrative side would be demolished first to make way for the police and 9-1-1 areas. Once that half of the building was demolished and rebuilt, the other half of the building would be demolished. Wigley said this would enable the police to move only once. The tech services building in the west parking lot would be demolished to create pedestrian access to the new building from Baltimore Avenue.
For Wigley, the next step is meeting with city department heads and staff to further refine the layout and the interior details, such as mechanical systems, structural systems and ceilings.
The building has been estimated to cost $17 million, but the city intends to recoup $2 million from the sale of the city-owned 306 Rehoboth Ave. property. Cooper said by the time the city is able to begin the city hall project, $700,000 in existing debt related to the Rehoboth Avenue streetscape project will have been retired. He said ideally, the city could get a 25-year loan at 4 percent interest.
The City Hall Task Force consists of the seven city commissioners; citizens Jim Ellison, Ken Simpler Sr., Jim Horty and Wayne Neale; City Manager Sharon Lynn; Chief Keith Banks and police communications supervisor Dawn Lynch.