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City of St. Helena

The City Council is moving toward consensus on building a City Hall next to the St. Helena Public Library.

Councilmembers want consultants to provide new images and cost estimates for a library/City Hall complex that would create a civic campus while preserving the library’s current location.

“I think we should give people a chance to see what it’s like as a combined building that might be more efficient and maybe less costly,” Councilmember Mary Koberstein said during a Jan. 8 special meeting.

The council has ruled out moving the library to Main Street, converting the library to a City Hall, or building a new library farther south on Library Lane.

“I think the library should stay where the library is,” said Councilmember Anna Chouteau. “It’s clear to me that the community and the library want to stay in that space.”

The council hasn’t decided whether to remodel the library or build a new one on the same site. A remodel was roughly estimated at $16.7 million, compared with $23 million for a new library.

Consultant Janet Tam said remodeling an existing building typically costs two-thirds to three-quarters as much as building a new one. Her estimates are based on a “major gut” with new roof, windows, and extensive improvements to meet current building codes.

“There’s not as much savings as one might think,” she said.

A new City Hall on Adams Street has been estimated at up to $20 million, but building it along with a new or remodeled library might present some cost savings.

The consulting firm Noll & Tam presented the council with four options. The council agreed to eliminate Option 1 (new library on City Hall site, convert library to City Hall), Option 3 (new library on Library Lane, convert library to City Hall), and Option 4 (all-new separate library, City Hall and council chambers on Library Lane).

The council’s preferred civic campus is comparable to Option 2 but much more condensed, with the City Hall and council chambers consolidated into one building and more closely integrated with the library.

Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said the library/City Hall complex is “very interesting and seems to have community and library support.” However, he’s still open to rebuilding City Hall on its current site.

With city staff permanently out of City Hall due to a Dec. 18 smoke incident, it’s only a matter of time before the building is demolished, Ellsworth said.

“Once that building is down, we’ll be able to see that site differently, and that might inform our decision-making,” he said.

Vice Mayor Paul Dohring said he’s “torn in a way because I’m inclined to see something really magical happen on Library Lane,” but he realizes that some people in town want to stick with the status quo and rebuild City Hall where it is.

“I’m cognizant of the fact that much of what we do is going to require the taxpayers to participate,” he said. “And there’s a fair contingent in our community who says, ‘Hell no, I’m not going to pay for that.’”

Dohring said he primarily wants to “make a decision and stick with it.”

Koberstein said the current City Hall site is better suited for something that would help the downtown economy and generate revenue to offset the cost of a new City Hall on Library Lane.

She noted that keeping City Hall on Main Street wasn’t one of the four options the council asked consultants to evaluate.

“I don’t want to go backward,” she said. “I want to go forward with what we have.”

The council is preparing to appoint a task force to investigate funding options for the new City Hall. The city is also interested in leasing part of the Napa Valley College Upper Valley Campus to use as a temporary City Hall until the new one is built.

Amphitheater proposed

Councilmembers are also open to an amphitheater being proposed by a group of St. Helena citizens.

Anthony Micheli, Tom Faherty and Dick Grace presented the proposed amphitheater on Tuesday, pledging to fund, build and maintain the structure somewhere on the Adams Street property.

Councilmembers said they like the idea, but they don’t want to commit to it until they make a decision about City Hall and the library this spring.

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You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.