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Menlo Park: City hall remodel almost approved

The three members of the Menlo Park City Council attending its June 17 meeting tiptoed up to the edge of proceeding with a $1.2 million remodel of city hall, only to decide at the last minute to delay the vote until all five council members could vote.

With Mayor Ray Mueller in China and Councilman Rich Cline out of town, the remaining three members of the council delved into the details of why they should approve the city staff's recommendation for a more expensive remodel.

Initially the council said OK to spending $300,000 on the remodel, which would reconfigure workspace for efficiency as well as add kiosks for better customer service. The 15-year-old carpet would also be replaced for $400,000. Then the staff eventually preferred a floor plan that would group departments by similarity, such as putting building next to planning, adding $500,000, for a total cost of $1.2 million.

The council balked when first presented with that total in March, and asked staff to come back later with a more detailed rationale for pressing ahead with the more expensive option.

During a presentation on June 17, interim Public Works Director Jesse Quirion pitched the plan as a longer-term solution than that provided by the lower-cost option, which would not create enough workspace for the planning employees the city expects to hire in the near future.

"We're trying to maximize everything under one roof," he told the council. "This is the best approach we were able to come up with without moving plumbing or elevators or physical structures."

Not only does installing new carpet at the same time trim costs, Mr. Quirion said, the $500,000 is already available thanks to other projects that came in under budget.

While Vice Mayor Cat Carlton and colleague Kirsten Keith were still not thrilled with the price tag, Ms. Carlton eventually came around to Councilman Peter Ohtaki's way of thinking, which was that it was better to plan now for the future needs of a building already overstuffed beyond the seams.

Still, the decision could wait until July for a vote by the entire council, they decided, despite City Manager Alex McIntyre's caution that the delay would have a domino effect on the staff's ability to hire and expand the slate of planning projects they had the capacity to undertake in a timely manner.

The July meeting "will be consumed with the (downtown/El Camino Real specific plan) initiative," Mr. McIntyre also noted.

"But this won't take that long," Ms. Keith responded.

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