Frustrations arose at a recent Menlo Park City Council meeting over plans to renovate city hall. The council and the city's staff agree that renovating city hall -- currently stuffed to the seams with employees -- is the right course of action. The point of disagreement is over how much to spend.
The staff presented a $1.2 million plan in June, and then again at the July 15 council meeting, at the council's request. The discussion closed, yet again, without the council voting on the cost.
Earlier this year the council approved spending $300,000 on the remodel, which would rearrange workspace and is designed to improve customer service by adding features such as kiosks. The 15-year-old carpet would also be replaced for $400,000.
But the staff eventually preferred a floor plan that would group departments by similarity, such as putting building next to planning, and asked for another $500,000. The council balked at the now total cost of $1.2 million and asked for more data to support that figure -- data which the July 15 discussion indicated the council members didn't get.
"I'm not happy with the fact that there was never a lower-cost alternative presented after we kicked it back and said this is too much," said Councilwoman Kirsten Keith.
A large part of the cost derives from the plan to carry out much of the renovation work at night, thus driving up labor expenses, to allow the city's staff to keep working during the day.
Mayor Ray Mueller was unconvinced that was completely necessary. Why not look at whether the staff in the department being worked on could not work that day, or if they could be briefly accommodated in another space such as the library, he said.
"We went through that analysis a year ago," Mr. Mueller said. "We did. And our direction at that time was to bring us back what the cost estimates would be with that change. We haven't done that. My question is why?"
He noted that with the imminent departure of one of the city's largest sales tax revenue generators -- Office Depot Max -- it may be time to plan for some budgetary "belt tightening" next year.
City Manager Alex McIntyre indicated that to the best of his knowledge, the council's direction had been to figure out how to carry out the remodel with the least disruption of staff workflow, and the thinking was that doing the renovation at night was most efficient. He commented that delaying approval of the cost would delay hiring new staff for the planning department, as right now there's no place to put them.
Interim Public Works Director Jesse Quirion said the $1.2 million was a "not to exceed" number and that once a new floor plan was approved, the city could ask for two bids, one to carry out the remodel during the day, and the other at night.
The council then voted 4-1, with Ms. Keith dissenting, to approve the floor plan. The contract will return for further discussion once bids are received.