Second public input session on Memorial Hall in offing

Memorial Hall stands at Eighth Street and Joplin Avenue. Globe | Laurie Sisk

A $25 million renovation of Memorial Hall is being posed by consultants who examined the building and obtained public input on preferred uses.

That report, along with the conclusions of examinations of Ewert Pool and the city's stormwater master plan, will be considered by the City Council in a work session beginning at 5:45 p.m. Monday.

The recommendation for Memorial Hall includes construction of an 8,500-square-foot addition on the west side of the building adjacent to Wall Avenue.

Overall, the plan also envisions the vacation of Eighth Street for a pedestrian plaza to which the building's existing outdoor war memorials would be moved and space provided for future construction of a memorial to other war dead. The plaza would connect to the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex that is to soon be built on the parking lot north of the hall.

Some of the key changes proposed for the building include removal of the failing entry ramp on the north side, replaced by a grand stair and accessible ramp entry. A small lot for handicapped-accessible parking is proposed on the east side of the building next to Joplin Avenue. A new dock and service area would be built on the south side.

The building's exterior would be repaired where brick and stone masonry has cracked because of settlement. The roof and related structure would be replaced depending on the results of a detailed analysis of the auditorium and mezzanine level that are yet to come.

In the auditorium, fixed seating on the main floor would be removed to expand the floor level for recreation programs and flexible seating arrangements for a variety of functions for theatrical performances, banquets and other purposes. Seating capacity would be 1,175.

New meeting rooms would be built on the mezzanine level on the northwest and northeast corners in place of fixed seating and new seating would be provided for the remaining fixed seating area with capacity of 575.

The west side addition would house multipurpose recreation space that also could be used for large events and banquets.

The report notes that though there was significant public interest and support for the building to house a children's discovery center, that use is not compatible with the space available.

Public input cited concerns for available parking. The consultants recommend that further studies be commissioned on parking, historic preservation and historic tax credits, as well as further evaluation of funding sources for the renovation costs.

Potential funding sources identified in the report are municipal bonds paid for with revenue from operations as well as taxes such as property tax, sales tax, use tax or a combination.

Historic tax credits to help fund the renovation are not available to public entities such as the city but the city could form a public-private partnership involving private individuals or nonprofits to obtain those tax credits, the report states.

Ewert Pool

The study of the pool showed that the infrastructure of the pool is in need of numerous repairs, but much could be serviceable for 15 years or so. The bathhouse and restroom designs are outdated and do not provide privacy for the men's restroom.

Options identified for the property are to renovate the pool and its buildings for modern use and include a splash park or convert the pool to a splash park.

Splash park features if the pool were converted could include concrete and artificial turf playground surfaces with shade structure, wet play areas including group sprays, tall sprays, wet boulder sprays and a 12-foot-wide ice rink.

Cost estimates are $4.8 million to $4.9 million to convert to a splash park.

The option to renovate the pool and add a splash park was not recommended because that would cost about $1 million more than the splash park conversion. Fees would have to be charged to help meet operational costs and the consultants did not believe it would draw the attendance needed to pay for the operations. There would be increased costs because of the size of staff needed to operate this option, the study noted.

Stormwater projects

The stormwater drainage assessment identified 25 projects that engineering consultants identified as most needed amounting to more than $40.5 million. The city could select from that list in deciding which projects to undertake, the report states.

Project locations are scattered throughout the city. The No. 1 ranked project site is Ninth Street and St. Louis Avenue, where about $237,000 in work is needed to a culvert and ditch.

The most costly project is rehabilitation of the Old Willow Branch, estimated at $13.2 million in 2021 dollars and up to $17.9 million if not done for 10 years. It ranks 13th on the priority list.

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