What is to be done about the cramped, aging and nearly windowless West St. Paul City Hall?

Council members plan to answer the question with new financial projections showing how City Hall improvements would affect the city's debt and tax picture.

Repairing, remodeling, adding onto and tearing down the 44-year-old City Hall have all been considered in the past two years, and city staffers last week asked City Council members to pick a direction.

Council Members Dave Napier and Dick Vitelli argued for tearing down some or all of the building and starting fresh.

But before making a choice, all council members agreed with Council Member Jenny Halvorson's suggestion that a decision on City Hall is similar to buying a house: "You first decide what you can afford."

They asked Ehlers, consultants in public finance, to present the city with financial projections for a range of possible City Hall spending starting at $9 million and going up to $11 million, $13 million and $15 million.

Council members want to see how each level of spending would affect the city's debt picture and property taxes. The comparison is expected to be ready in early May.

Problems with the single-story concrete building, built in 1969, include a leaking roof, a lack of windows, inefficient heating and cooling, a lack of power outlets, inadequate lighting and dated technology in the council chambers, as well as a lack of space in the Police Department for public interview rooms, evidence storage and indoor parking for squad cars.

After hearing the list of problems, Vitelli said, "There is no reason to save this thing."

He suggested keeping the public safety wing of the building because it has a basement where all the utilities enter the structure.

Saving the utilities hookup would save money in addressing the City Hall side of the building, Vitelli said.

He said it would be a simple matter to dig a basement and build up two stories to meet all City Hall needs.

Napier said he would like to see the project done right. "You build for what you need. If you don't build what you need, you go back every time." □