Leesburg's new Town Council is considering scaling back the proposed addition to Town Hall or just renting more office space elsewhere.
"We prettied it up too much," Vice Mayor Fernando J. "Marty" Martinez said after seeing the latest cost estimates for the addition during Monday night's council work session.
Town officials say that the 29,658-square-foot Town Hall on Market Street is filled and that some of the nearly 100 employees are crammed into shared offices. A 15,000-square-foot addition on Loudoun Street was proposed in 2002 at an estimated cost of $3.7 million. But when members of the previous council added bay windows, a visitor center and retail space, the cost doubled, to $7.4 million for 26,500 square feet.
Town Manager Robert S. Noe Jr. described the original proposal as "a box that was quite honestly offensive."
"If all we want is space, we could have built a box," Noe said.
He said that if a Town Hall expansion were simply a matter of providing workers more room, rather than fostering civic pride, the town could have bought the recently vacated Kmart building off Market Street. Although Noe was joking, Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd said that solution would have the advantage of not altering the historic district.
Capital projects director Nagi Elsewaissi said a $7.4 million addition, spread over 20 years, would cost $671,400 a year, including interest and maintenance and deducting expected income from leasing its retail properties.
Real estate agent Rich Vaaler, who has been advising the town for free, said that to rent 16,300 square feet would cost $407,500 a year, going up to $770,523 by the end of the 20 years. He said the rent figures would not include remodeling and furnishing the space to meet the town's needs, which would bring figures for the two options closer together. "It's about a wash either way," Vaaler said.
Martinez said he still supports expanding Town Hall but thinks the council should consider a less expensive plan.
"The town is not going to shrink, and staff needs more room," he said.
Umstattd said she remained concerned about how the proposed Town Hall project could affect the tax rate -- in her estimation, possibly increasing it by 1.25 or 1.5 cents a year.
However, she said she would be interested in getting a cost estimate of a building with only "absolutely essential purposes."
Some council members defended the extra features.
"I believe this town is responsible for setting the town for architectural and historic integrity, especially in the historic district," said new council member Susan B. Horne.
She emphasized that investing in building a Town Hall would be cost-effective in the long run.
"We already own the land, and we will ultimately own the building," Horne said. "It's ours -- it belongs to the people of Leesburg."
The town staff will continue working with an architect on the design, Elsewaissi said. The Town Council would have to approve the funding before a construction contract can be sought, but no date has been set for a vote.