Politics & Government

Exterior of Lexington city hall creating safety hazards. The fix costs $5.1 million.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Center in downtown Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. An EOP Architects report shows the city may need to spend up to $5.1 million to fix exterior problems to the building on Main Street.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Center in downtown Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. An EOP Architects report shows the city may need to spend up to $5.1 million to fix exterior problems to the building on Main Street. aslitz@herald-leader.com

A new report released this week shows Lexington may need to spend as much as $5.1 million to fix exterior problems at the 1919 city government center on Main Street.

The report by EOP Architects on the building’s exterior was presented to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Tuesday during a special meeting. It showed that some of the limestone and other materials are beginning to pull away from the building, allowing water inside. And that water damage is causing significant problems on the interior, the report showed.

“There are 400-pound limestone blocks that are sitting there just out of habit,” said Kevin Gough, the architect who oversaw the report.

The entry vestibule on Main Street should be dissembled and rebuilt because the masonry has debonded or the mortar has failed, the report said.

If the city puts off the repair, costs will climb and the damage caused by allowing water into the building will only escalate, causing even bigger headaches and repair bills, Gough told the council Tuesday.

The sobering report comes as the city again debates whether it should stay in the former Lafayette Hotel and four other downtown buildings or consolidate its operations in a new government center.

The city moved into the former hotel more than 40 years ago. It was supposed to be a temporary home.

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A crack in the stone at the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Center in downtown Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. An EOP Architects report shows the city may need to spend up to $5.1 million to fix exterior problems to the building on Main Street. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

For more than two decades, the city has debated whether to move to a more efficient building. It came close to moving last year when it selected a private developer to overhaul the current Lexington Herald-Leader building on Midland Avenue for a new city government center. But that deal was killed after the council expressed unease with the proposal.

The cost of fixing the city’s aging government building may force the city into making a decision sooner rather than later, city officials told the council Tuesday.

Vice Mayor Steve Kay appointed various council committees earlier this year to look at the issues surrounding a new government center. Those groups are looking at separate aspects, such as location, financing and space needs.

Kay said those subcommittees are continuing their work. Even if the council and Mayor Linda Gorton’s administration ultimately decide a new city government center is needed, it’s unlikely a move would happen for at least three to four years, Kay said.

Mayor Linda Gorton told the council during Tuesday’s work session the city may not make its money back if it spends up to $5.1 million on the exterior. The city has not had the building appraised but the Fayette County Property Value Administrator has valued the building at $12 million, city officials said Tuesday.

Jamshid Baradaran, the city’s director of facilities, said a 2008 report and analysis of the building’s exterior showed similar problems. The city never fixed the exterior because of the cost, but that delay has been costly.

“The 2008 report showed the costs would be $2.5 million,” Baradaran said. “Now it’s $5.1 million.”

Baradaran said much of the interior problems in the building are linked to the exterior problems.

“We’ve reached a critical point where we can no longer kick this issue down the road,” Baradaran said.

He also warned the council that the building needs a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

But there’s an even bigger, thornier problem looming — the elevators in the building are so old that the city’s elevator vendor has to surf Ebay or other third-party suppliers to find replacement parts.

A report on those elevators is in the works and should be available in coming months, Baradaran said.

The city may not want to replace the elevators if it wants to sell the building, said Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer. A developer may want to move those elevators to a different location within the building depending on its new use, she said.

Kay said the council might have to make some decisions soon. The subcommittees’ various reports on a new government center should be completed in coming weeks, he said, allowing the council to revisit both issues — whether to fix the current building or start the process of finding a new city government center.

Gorton said the city may not have a choice on some of the exterior problems highlighted in the EOP report.

Some of the issues are health and safety problems, she said.

“Some need to be addressed immediately,” she said.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council considered a developer's proposal to move city hall to the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader in 2018. CRM Companies had proposed gutting and expanding the building.

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