The City of Lawton is finally ready to launch long-delayed renovations at Lawton City Hall.
The plans, approved by City Council earlier this month, will bring the building to full functional use by finishing conversion of three now-vacant floors into office space. The work will proceed as planned now that the council ordered unallocated sales tax revenue in the 2019 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) be directed to the “improvements to city buildings/facilities” category within the CIP resolution. That designation allows the $5.47 million to be applied to higher-than expected construction costs associated with city hall renovations and upgrades at McMahon Auditorium.
The council’s decision came after weeks of discussions about what city officials call unallocated funds and the CIP resolution terms “excess funds” reflecting the difference between the $23.5 million city officials projected would be generated by the CIP and the $28.97 million they now expect this year from the 2.125 percent tax. City officials, working under the dictates of the CIP resolution, held two public hearings so residents could comment on potential uses before the council decided what to do.
City administrators said weeks ago they would recommend those funds be applied to the city hall renovation, estimated at $7.57 million after project manager CMS Willowbrook analyzed subcontractor bids and selected the winning ones. The 2019 CIP designates $6 million for that renovation, short of today’s $7.57 million cost.
The actual decision was to designate excess funds to improvements to city facilities. Acting City Attorney Tim Wilson said that means the funds are allocated to a broad category of city facilities and if any funds remain after those projects are completed, the council then could vote to move them to another identified category within the CIP resolution. Council members were concerned about what buildings those funds could cover, and Wilson said the category specifies improvements in three areas: renovation and remodeling of Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport (specified for $2 million); renovation of McMahon Auditorium ($4.5 million); and continuation of renovation and remodeling of City Hall ($6 million).
Council members have said the renovations to city hall are necessary to make the building fully functional, so more city offices can move into the complex.
“Our IT (Department) is in a horrible work situation,” said Ward 1 Councilwoman Mary Ann Hankins. “We have to have IT over here in a decent building.”
IT and the city’s finance offices remain in the City Hall Annex, located on Southwest 5th Street at Southwest A Avenue, and officials have said the badly deteriorating building needs extensive structural and HVAC upgrades to keep it safe and functional — funds better allocated to the city hall renovation project, former City Manager Michael Cleghorn said. Plans already are under way to move the IT Department into one of the floors in city hall’s north wing, where only the ground floor is operational.
But, other council members said constituents have questioned whether the building is the best use of CIP funds. Ward 2 Councilman Kelly Harris said when he discusses the issue with constituents, the number one priority is almost always streets and “all the broken water mains.”
“Citizens voted to fix up this building,” Booker said, of specific projects identified in the 2019 CIP taken to voters for approval. “We’ve had city hall unfinished for over a decade.”
Warren said the intent of restoring all six floors in city hall to functional use was putting all city offices in one building, which would lessen the costs associated with operating multiple facilities while providing a “one stop shop” for citizens needing services. He said city leaders always intended to finish renovations of city hall, but the project got off track when state preservation funds promised to help bring new use to the historic Lawton High School never materialized.
“We tried a little bit at a time to fix it,” he said, adding the City Hall Annex, whose condition he defined as abysmal, was not designed to be an IT facility.
“We need to finish what we started years and years ago,” said Ward 5 Councilman Allan Hampton.