xyz Kings Courthouse

Old Kings Courthouse

HANFORD – So how much is it going to cost to keep the Old Courthouse Building in a habitable condition for tenants?

Try $1 million, which is City Public Works Director Lou Camara's latest estimate for what it will take to purchase and install a new, badly needed air conditioning/heating system in the historic structure.

That's more the double the $400,000 estimate Camara gave the City Council in October 2016

He later upped the estimate to $550,000.

Camara said Tuesday that the estimate soared to $1 million mainly because the design proved more complex than anticipated because of the advanced age of the building and the challenge of finding ways to get ducts installed throughout the building without knocking down walls or marring the exterior appearance.

Camara said the $1 million figure doesn't cover additional costs needed to get the third floor of the building into a fit state for occupancy.

Camara gave the council the updated estimate this week as part of the council's look at possible amendments to the budget in the middle of the city's two-year, 2016-2018 budget cycle.

Going off of the earlier estimates, the budget had already set aside $500,000 for the fix.

Now, in order to approve the $1 million amount, the council will have to vote formally to add it as a budget amendment.

The council is expected to make a decision at a future council meeting.

For now, some skepticism remains on the council about whether the public will support the idea of taking more money out of the city's general fund that could be used for other, higher-priority needs.

The $500,000 allocated in the budget for the new HVAC system was actually originally slated to be used to renovate the Bastille, another dilapidated historic building in Civic Park.

However, the council nixed that idea after a public outcry from residents indignant about the money being sunk into the empty building when the city has other pressing needs such as getting a new police station and building an indoor recreation center.

Councilman Justin Mendes said in an interview this week that he's OK with the city putting in the new HVAC system, but only if it spends no more out of the general fund than the $500,000 originally allocated.

Mendes wants the city to sell the old post office building currently occupied by Rabobank. He said the city could get $800,000 for it.

Mendes would like to see that money then combined with the $500,000 all ready allocated to put the HVAC system in the courthouse.

After getting it fixed up, he'd like to sell the courthouse to a private company.

He'd then like to use the proceeds from that sale to renovate the Bastille, and possibly sell it too.

Mendes said that buyers would be required to maintain the buildings' historic appearance.

Mendes said that, combined, the Old Courthouse and the Bastille have sucked $1 million out of the city's general fund in the last 10 years or so.

"I don't understand the logic of dumping [another $1 million] into Courthouse Square," he said. "We'll never get out of the hole."

When asked in an interview, Councilwoman Sue Sorensen wasn't necessarily willing to go along with Mendes' full-blown chain-reaction of building sales, but she sympathized with the idea of not taking additional money out of the general fund.

She said the council should consider selling at least one building to "allow private enterprise to do what they do, which is to own buildings and do property management."

Mayor David Ayers was less sympathetic to the idea of selling the Rabobank building.

"I am against it, though I will not deny that if that's a last resort ... that [might] be the thing we're going to have to do," he said. "I don't like the idea."

"The bottom line, $1 million, that's a lot of money," Ayers said.

Ayers said the City Council will at its next meeting take a look at the possibility of coming up with the $1 million out of the general fund.

"We'll have to go through the finances," he said.

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

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