Marin Independent Journal
Larkspur hears call to preserve prized City Hall
The future of Larkspur City Hall has been on the City Council's agenda for years. In some ways, its future has been inextricably linked — physically and financially — to the city's long-standing goal of building a new and larger library.
City Hall is a Magnolia Avenue landmark and one of the oldest municipal offices across Marin. The city's popular library is located on the ground floor of the 109-year-old building.
Both uses could benefit from having more space, modern improvements and better access.
In a tight vote last week, the council agreed to pursue plans to rehabilitate City Hall, bypassing the proposal to move in conjunction with building a new library. By choosing to stay put, planners can hone designs for the new library on the city-owned site at Rose
Lane and Doherty Drive. Importantly, the decision is just in time to qualify for a $5.2 million library grant from the state.
The grant, as well as the success of local fundraising efforts, means the new library is going to be built. The vote means the library can stay on track to be completed by 2026, a requirement for the grant money.
For many locals who have been waiting, wishing and working years for a new library, 2026 is a welcome deadline.
The council's split decision to renovate City Hall instead of building a new one on its Rose Lane site is interesting. The majority of its members voted to renovate, even though estimates show that it would be far less expensive to build a new city hall.
According to the city's figures, renovating City Hall would require an $18 million budget. Building new city offices as part of the library project would have cost an estimated $10 million.
The council could save money now by choosing to only do a partial renovation of City Hall. That, of course, would mean deferring needed upgrades to a later time.
Connecting new city offices with the new library would have made the most sense fiscally. But City Hall is a local landmark, one that's so iconic it has been part of the city's logo.
City officials released building estimates to give local residents a chance to mull over the decision and express their support for one option or the other. Opening the door wider for community input on the future of what are community buildings is a good move. The feedback from that effort likely helped shape how the council voted.
Over the past 50 years, other Marin cities have faced the same milestone. Many have decided to build new offices. As this process continues, officials from the city and the council need to honestly assess what needs face City Hall in the 21st century.
It's true that a completely renovated City Hall building still may not provide enough room for all city offices. City officials would be wise to keep alternate plans in their back pocket in case additional meeting or programming space is needed on the property at Rose and Doherty.
The bottom line is that city offices should be models of compliance, living up to the same building and safety codes it requires of the general public. The same goes for physical working conditions for workers in city offices.
Time has not really saved the city any money. Costs rise. So does the need for a new library and City Hall improvements.
It was time for this public discussion to move forward to a decision.