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Council Debates Renovating City Hall Versus Purchasing PenFed Building

April 9, 2019

SCRANTON — After describing City Hall deficiencies that won’t be covered by a $10.7 million renovation, building maintenance employee Paul O’Hora urged council to back a $5 million purchase of the PenFed Credit Union building and move offices there. The PenFed building at 315-331 Franklin Ave. “is absolutely perfect for what the city of Scranton needs — office space that serves the public,” O’Hora told council during its weekly meeting Monday. O’Hora’s comments renewed debate that arose last month on the merits and costs of renovating the historic 1888 City Hall versus relocating offices. After receiving a report from consultant Highland Associates estimating a total renovation of the Municipal Building at 340 N. Washington Ave. would cost $10.7 million, Mayor Bill Courtright and city Business Administrator David Bulzoni floated the idea of the city pursuing unspecified alternatives. But Councilman Kyle Donahue — in no uncertain terms — backed a renovation of City Hall and having offices stay put. “I really don’t care how much it costs. I don’t think we should ever walk away from this building (City Hall) and I will never support selling this building,” Donahue said at Monday’s meeting. Council President Pat Rogan, who is amenable to a potential sale of City Hall and relocation elsewhere if it saves money and improves services, said it appears a majority of the five-member council opposes a move. O’Hora said the Highland estimate does not even cover everything that City Hall needs, such as replacing windows for energy efficiency, upgrading 40-year-old plumbing in bathrooms and ensuring adequate building security, or costs of temporary relocation of offices while repairs take place. Additionally, the busy licensing department on City Hall’s fourth floor gets 200 visitors a day, but it can’t go onto the first floor because of interior configurations, he said. The PenFed building could house licensing on the first floor, could have a drive-through window for trash fee payments, and would have ample parking spaces for the public, he said. “It’s an opportunity that just kind of lined up. Please, don’t miss that opportunity,” O’Hora said of a PenFed purchase. He stressed he was not suggesting City Hall be abandoned, but he believes a restoration could be done by a private-sector entity and cost much less. Donahue was adamant. “I think if we’re going to sell this building, we might as well put the whole city up for bid and just put a padlock on the door because that’s basically what you’re saying,” Donahue said. “We have to get better at maintaining this building and we have to figure out a way to fix it up.” Councilman Wayne Evans said the city should consider prioritizing City Hall renovations, rather than an all-at-once approach previously pitched by Bulzoni. “This is the people’s building. We are responsible for this building and we should restore this building,” Evans said. “We cannot walk away from our responsibility.” Rogan said the bottom line should be just that — the bottom line of costs and most efficient way to provide services. Councilman Tim Perry did not address the issue Monday, but last week voiced support for renovation. Councilman Bill Gaughan, who was absent Monday, expressed concerns about costs of renovation during council’s March 25 meeting. “I do think, though, that we need to examine all options extremely carefully,” Gaughan said. Contact the writer: jlockwood@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5185; @jlockwoodTT on Twitter

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