City releases update on operations, planning for city hall

Nearly two months following Mercer Island City Council’s unanimous vote to permanently close city hall, the city released an update on where it stands in the operations and planning realms.

The Nov. 29 update notes that city staff, city councilmembers and outside experts have been diligently working and planning for a solution.

According to a previous Reporter story, council voted to shutter the building at its hybrid meeting on Oct. 3 following City Manager Jessi Bon’s presentation regarding asbestos and structural issues within the aging building and the estimated exorbitant costs to mend the facility (more than $10 million, according to Bon’s letter to the community on Oct. 4).

“I think for the long-term success of our city, this is the right move. It’s certainly not easy,” Deputy Mayor David Rosenbaum said at the October meeting.

While the city continues to work on a long-term replacement strategy for city hall, most of its operations continue as normal as about 80% of its employees work locally in-person and others work from home offices/shared on-Island office spaces. Buildings being utilized are the Mercer Island Community and Events Center, maintenance building and Luther Burbank administrative building.

City employees working locally each day include members of the police and fire departments, parks and recreation department, Youth and Family Services and maintenance workers and public works engineers.

In recent months, Island municipal court hearings have been occurring at the Kirkland Municipal Justice Center, and the police department is housed in a Luther Burbank Park building. All city councilmembers and most staff members are currently participating in council meetings via Zoom, and residents can gather for meetings at the community center. Plans are in the works to bring everyone back in person, according to the city.

Along with the council chambers, the municipal court and the police department were all located on the city campus at 9611 SE 36th St.

Looking deeper into temporary facility solutions for court and police employees, city council recently approved a lease agreement with the city of Newcastle as a future locale for Island court services within the neighboring city hall; and council recently reviewed a budget allocation for police department portable structures.

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, according to previous Reporter stories.

“The city will consider a wide range of options that will result in a responsible, efficient, and sustainable future for city hall operations. While much of the planning related to real estate transactions must be conducted confidentially through the city’s broker, community engagement on the long-term options to replace city hall is anticipated in 2024,” the update reads.

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