City leaders are moving one step closer to determining the future of civic assets like City Hall and the St. Helena Public Library.
During a special meeting on Monday, the City Council formed a subcommittee that will spend the next few months exploring potential uses of a new multi-use City Hall building on the current City Hall site.
Councilmembers have talked about a multi-story building with some sort of community-serving uses on the ground floor and City Hall offices upstairs. Based on the recommendations of the St. Helena Assets Planning Engagement (SHAPE) Committee, councilmembers are considering a building that would be more integrated with Lyman Park and serve as a northern anchor for the downtown commercial corridor.
Mayor Alan Galbraith said the whole council agrees that “City Hall is critical, it’s not a good candidate for rehabilitation, and we need to move forward with its replacement now.”
Councilmember Paul Dohring said, “My hope is that we could build a building that the community can be very exceptionally proud of, but that will also meet some of the needs of the community – our government needs and the need to reactivate and reenergize our downtown.”
A subcommittee made up of Galbraith and Councilmember Mary Koberstein will explore possible uses for the new building, with input from the public and the economic consulting firm Kosmont Companies.
Meanwhile, a separate subcommittee made up of Galbraith and incoming Councilmember Anna Chouteau will work with library supporters and a library consultant to look at ways to modernize and improve the library. Movable stacks and an outdoor patio are two options that have been proposed for the library.
Councilmembers unanimously agreed that the current City Hall needs to be torn down, and they are strongly leaning toward building a new multi-use City Hall on the current site. However, that decision hasn’t been set in stone.
Koberstein said she’s definitely in favor of a multi-use building there, but she’s not committed to whether it should include “a City Hall with something else” or “the library with something else.”
“We’re moving into what I would call Phase 2 of SHAPE, where we try to keep an open mind, do a little more study … and then make up our minds,” Koberstein said, adding that the city also needs to study the feasibility of a hotel.
Councilmember Geoff Ellsworth said he’s “keeping an open mind,” but leaning toward a multi-use City Hall on the current site.
“By keeping City Hall in the same place and then making it active – whether it’s with retail or with exhibition space tied into the park – we get kind of a double benefit,” Ellsworth said.
City Manager Mark Prestwich will report back to the council in January on the City Hall and library studies, as well as other city assets like the police station, which the city plans to move temporarily into the old CDF building on Railroad Avenue, with construction of a new police station to follow.
In the meantime, Kosmont will study the feasibility of a hotel on the Adams Street or Teen Center properties.
During public comment, several members of the SHAPE Committee talked about their visions for City Hall, the library and the Adams Street property. But the council also heard from a few new voices when four St. Helena High School students spoke in support of a cultural center on the current City Hall site that would appeal to young people and families.
“We as students would love to see something that could unify our community and also draw in new families possibly,” said Nicole Cia. “Also, it’s a great way for teens to hang out somewhere, because in our town we don’t really cater to the younger generations.”
The concept of a cultural center hasn’t been fully defined, but it was favored by some members of the SHAPE Committee and it’s one of the options for the first floor of the multi-use City Hall.