HANFORD – The Hanford City Council has indicated it wants the Bastille to be renovated, but it hasn't yet decided how to pay for it.

The action, which was taken at last week's regular council meeting, was a consensus that didn't involve a formal vote. A formal vote will be required later to approve funding for renovation work.

The cost estimate to do minimal structural work to keep the Bastille from deteriorating any further was pegged at $600,000 earlier this year.

But when bids went out recently, estimates for the work, which includes roof repairs, ballooned to nearly $1 million.

The $1 million estimate doesn't include interior renovations to rebuild the kitchen and make other improvements that would help attract tenants to the Bastille, the former Kings County jail that has been falling into disrepair since it was vacated by a night club in 2009.

The council's agreed it would be good to move forward with the renovation, an agreement that came after a lot of discussion at the council's meeting last week. It was also cheered by Shelly Talbert, executive director of Main Street Hanford, the organization devoted to promoting downtown.

"I think anything that will preserve and enhance our historical buildings in the downtown area is a good thing," Talbert said. "It's a win for our entire community when something like that happens."

The council will have to vote formally to approve funding for the project at a later meeting.

Last week's decision to move forward came after several local residents spoke in favor of preserving the Bastille during the public comment period at last week's council meeting.

Longtime Hanford resident Mark Cole said that tearing down the Bastille would be similar to the decision made to tear down the old Hanford High School in the 1970s.

"Don't make the same mistakes," Cole told the council.

"It's part of what brings people to our area," said Hanford resident Desiree Aragon. "It's our history."

The council's decision came amid uncertainty about where the city would get the approximately $1 million.

City Manager Darrel Pyle said the money could come out of the city's accumulated capital outlay fund, but Pyle said that if you add in approximately $500,000 for needed work on the Old Courthouse as well as other capital improvement projects the council has indicated it wants to do, the fund would be about $300,000 in the red.

"You're about $300,000 short of being able to accomplish everything in your capital improvements plan," Pyle told the council.

Pyle couldn't be reached Wednesday for further comment.

Hanford Public Works Director Lou Camara said at last week's meeting that taking $1 million out of the fund to work on the Bastille would "deplete our reserves."

Camara said the expenditure could threaten funding for future projects.

That possibility of putting the accumulated capital outlay fund into a deficit led the council to discuss potentially borrowing money from other budget categories.

The upshot was that the council directed Pyle to prepare a report on financing options and bring it back for a decision at a later date.

The idea of borrowing against money already budgeted for other city needs drew a sharp response from Councilman Justin Mendes in an interview.

"I think that this council is on the verge of making the most epic fiscal failure of all time," Mendes said. "You can't spend money that you don't have." 

Mendes proposed selling the Rabobank building to pay for the Bastille work, but the rest of the council wasn't willing to support that idea.

Mendes said the council should focus on spending money to improve the Old Courthouse because the Old Courthouse has tenants and the Bastille doesn't.

Councilman Martin Devine said in an interview Wednesday that the Bastille is worth spending the money on.

"It's a jewel in the middle of our city that we need to polish," Devine said.

Devine said he'd be willing to support a mechanism to borrow money from other budget categories to pay for the project. Devine said the money could be potentially paid back through development impact fees coming from projected future development in Hanford.

In an interview Wednesday, Councilman Francisco Ramirez indicated he'd also be willing to support some kind of borrowing mechanism.

"It's time we invest in downtown," Ramirez said.

Mayor Dave Ayers and Vice-Mayor Sue Sorensen couldn't be reached Wednesday for comment.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

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