The council on Jan. 18 agreed with the advisory Town Center Task Force that Nichols Melburg & Rossetto is the preferred firm to take on the project.
The task force, headed by City Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, was asking the council to authorize a meeting with NM&R architects, but questions arose about how the firm would be paid, given that no budget has been approved for the project.
Another question pertains to the new center's size: With the layoff of 13 of the town's 16 general employees last year, will the town's space needs be less than the ballpark figure the architects were working with when they participated in a design competition in 2010?
Ms. Lewis and Councilman Jerry Carlson, who is also on the task force, urged their council colleagues to allow the process — including the meeting with NM&R — to go forward, but after a council discussion about the uncertainties, voted with their colleagues to endorse the choice of firms but have the task force come back to the council with more information, including a new estimate of space needs, before bringing in the professionals.
Councilman Jim Dobbie noted that the town has only 29 employees, 21 of whom are in the police department. And, he noted, "no more than 30 percent of the police are on duty at one time."
The proposed center would be built with donated funds, but the residents who will be asked to contribute need to be assured that the town isn't "building a monolith we don't need," he said.
Councilman Carlson stressed the need to take some action to "demonstrate we're serious" about building a center — both to the architectural firm and the residents who will be asked to donate. Assurances from council members Dobbie and Kathy McKeithen appeared to smooth to way forward.
In the design competition, NM&R proposed two, two-story buildings connected by an arched loggia and including a community center with a rooftop terrace. The buildings as drawn would total about 20,000 square feet, according to architect Les Melburg.
But the conceptual design and size are expected to evolve in the next phases of the process. Councilwoman Lewis noted that public outreach meetings would be held to gather feedback from residents, and "input from the architectural firm will be valuable" to shaping and organizing that process.