City council approves resolution to permanently close city hall

With a pair of Mercer Island City Councilmembers voicing that it was a tough decision to make, council unanimously voted to direct the permanent closure of the city hall building at its hybrid meeting on Oct. 3.

Following a robust presentation by City Manager Jessi Bon, in which she delved into asbestos and structural issues within the aging building and the estimated exorbitant costs to mend the facility and more, council approved the resolution that was on the table.

Deputy Mayor David Rosenbaum, who made the motion to move the resolution into the voting phase, noted: “I think for the long-term success of our city, this is the right move. It’s certainly not easy. That building, I think, was very useful, even though it certainly had its flaws.”

Councilmember Jake Jacobson, who seconded the motion, added that while the city hasn’t attained a final answer on what awaits, it possesses the framework to move forward through the vital analysis of Bon, her team and environmental safety experts since the building was shuttered in mid-April.

Prior to issuing her recommendation to close city hall and before council’s vote, Bon said of the significant decision: “It will take us on a path to replacement, which is going to be likely very complex and also costly, but we also need to acknowledge that closing the building and then changing our minds later would also be a very costly decision to reverse.”

Starting in November, council is scheduled to conduct its regular meetings in the Mercer Island Community and Event Center’s Slater Room. To upgrade the room to act as council’s makeshift chambers, it recently passed a consent agenda bill to appropriate $82,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act Fund.

City hall has been shuttered since April 17 after the discovery of asbestos-contaminated broken tiles in the boiler room, which contains two air-handling units. Since then, council has been holding hybrid meetings with members participating remotely.

During their extensive testing, environmental experts located asbestos in some settled dust samples and within two HVAC system filters and flooring, but revealed that there were no positive tests for airborne asbestos. In one building re-occupation scenario, experts disclosed a preliminary cost estimate of $10.2 million for removal and replacement of equipment and materials and finishes. There would have been additional costs for removal and safe disposal of hazardous materials.

There aren’t only asbestos issues plaguing the city hall building, which was originally constructed in 1957 and was last renovated in 1988, according to Bon.

“The current city hall does not meet our current energy or building code requirements and multiple building systems are failing,” she said. “We (also) had concerns about the structural integrity of the building.”

Earlier this year, the city began long-term planning work regarding replacing city hall and staff’s 2024 docket includes discussions with city council and community members.

Along with securing a functional space for city council meetings, Bon said the city is primarily focused on relocating and stabilizing its municipal court and police department. Court hearings are presently occurring at the Kirkland Municipal Justice Center and other court business is taking place in a Fire Station 91 conference room, and the police department is currently housed in a Luther Burbank Park building.

“Our top priority is ensuring continuity of public services and doing so in an innovative and creative way,” said Bon, noting that 80% of city staff members are working in-person on the Island each day, including police, fire, municipal court, parks and recreation, public works engineers and Youth and Family Services and maintenance employees.

It’s a heartbreaking decision to shutter city hall, said councilmember Wendy Weiker, but she’s “eager to move forward, because given all the work and research that you’ve done, you clearly have to make this statement,” she told Bon. “I appreciate you for bringing this agenda bill forward and memorializing the discussion and the background and setting up whatever might be next.”

To access city services during the city hall closure, residents can call the customer service team at 206-275-7600 or email from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday except holidays.

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