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By Erkya Forquer
Councilmembers approved plans to construct their new chambers on the second floor of City Hall during a city council meeting on Tuesday, May 18, in a 3-2 vote with opposition from Councilmembers Laura Ferguson and Steve Knoblock.
The city requested to extend its existing contract with Gensler, the architecture firm that designed the improvements on the second floor of City Hall for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department substation. The proposed amendment also grants additional funding and increases the contract amount from $265,350 to $441,350.
The $176,000 increase in the city’s contract with Gensler will be used by the architect company to construct the drawings and specifications of the council chambers, which will be built next to the police services station.
“As we were doing the construction of the second-floor substation, and the council may recall this as well, we had a 5,000-square-foot, give or take, footprint that was not going to be utilized by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department,” City Manager Erik Sund said. “We found that that 5,000 square feet was very feasible to have a council chambers.”
The city council temporarily moved its chambers to the San Clemente Community Center due to COVID-19 restrictions. The council’s previous chambers were located on Avenida Presidio, within the old city hall building that was recently declared as surplus land—a designation meant to further the process of selling the property.
While Ferguson recommended the council remain in its current location at the community center, other councilmembers expressed their discontent with the idea.
“I disagree that I think this building works for us,” Mayor Kathy Ward said. “It’s very different from all of us sitting at the dais together and looking each other in the eye. Our staff is across the room and the public is over on the side.”
Ward, who said the circumstances at the community center are “difficult and not ideal,” also said that the center should be returned to the public. San Clemente’s community center, which hosts nonprofits and their various events, has been closed to the public during the pandemic. However, it is scheduled to reopen when California lifts its COVID restrictions.
“I know our nonprofits on June 15 will be hosting a number of their events,” Sund said. “If we wanted to convert this to a council chamber, you would be talking about where we would create a new community center to host these community groups.”
Several councilmembers also expressed their concerns about the cost of constructing the council chambers on the second floor of City Hall. Although the city has not received an estimated cost by the architect, interim Public Works Director Manuel Gomez estimated that the construction could range between $1.5 million to $1.7 million.
According to preliminary reviews, Sund said the funding of the project would likely come from the American Rescue Plan Act. While he also said that the city’s general fund would not be impacted by the costs, Ferguson criticized the additional funding in the contract with Gensler.
“I just can’t support doing this at this time,” said Ferguson. “We’re pretty much out of COVID but there’s just so many unknowns still and you know we speak a lot about these revenue enhancements that we have to make and yet we have $176,000 of unbudgeted funds that we’re looking to potentially approve tonight.”
The motion for the proposal was carried through with an amendment suggested by Knoblock to remove the time frame of the city’s service contract with Gensler, which would have initially ended Feb. 3, 2022.