Nearly six months in as Mineral Wells’ city manager, Randy Criswell wasn’t too surprised by last week’s municipal facilities assessment report.
“If you would have asked me that question five months ago I would have said no, but by the time the report came out I had a pretty good idea,” Criswell said on Monday.
At city council’s Oct. 15 meeting, Level 5 Design Group architects president Justin Gilmore presented his findings and recommendations after inspecting the city’s 22 buildings. Overall, his report found city buildings were in poor shape in need major updates, repairs or replacement.
Gilmore gave an hour-long presentation and presented council and city officials with a thick report.
The question is where do city officials go from here?
“First off that was the first time council had seen the report so I figured they were going to need a little time to digest that and give it some thought,” Criswell said. “I don’t know that they were even surprised. I think the first thing we need to recognize is that some of those needs are pretty critical. We also have to realize that we can’t fix everything at once. There is just no way to do that.”
If you thought municipal streets and water lines were in poor shape, a report Tuesday on the city's 22 facilities was just about as bad – but probably not surprising to most.
In some cases, Gilmore cited what he considered life/safety issues, including at Boyce Ditto Public Library involving electrical wiring installation he said was not within code and posed a safety threat. Chemical rust on pipes and fittings at city pool could prevent that facility from opening next summer if not addressed, he told council.
Overall, Gilmore said, city facilities generally lack proper handicap accessibility and are outdated, too small, are under-utilized or have major and costly structural or other issues. Being situated in a flood plain prevents additional issues for several buildings including City Hall, the annex, Public Safety Building and Public Works building.
Gilmore said the costs to repair and update a handful of cited properties lack justification because of their age and inability to accommodate future growth and needs. He estimated repair costs to the 22 facilities at $13.53 million. Replacing those facilities would cost the city around $37.17 million.
“One of the things I plan to lead my people to do is take a look at the fact that we may have facilities that we just don’t need,” Criswell said. “Mineral Wells may have too much house to take care of. We might not need all of that. There might be some places where we can consolidate things instead of fixing something.”
For instance, Gilmore found that the North Oak Community Center was structurally a good facility with a ballroom he said “could potentially be the most amazing space in Mineral Wells.” Needing an estimated $1.4 million in repairs, Gilmore suggested that facility could become an activity center rather than the city utilizing the center at Wolters Industrial Park, which Gilmore said had multiple issues that cannot be resolved with renovation.
“We are going to have to evaluate, and I think this is on me, I think this is our role as staff, what do we have and what do we need? Because now we know that (most) everything that we have is in bad condition,” Criswell said.
He said somethings in the report “jumped off the page at me” as far as being facilities the city possibly no longer needs.
“We have to take that information as a starting point to do a needs assessment,” the city manager said. “And I’m not talking about hiring someone to do that. We can do that. But we need to do a needs assessment to see what we can do without with all of this stuff Mineral Wells has. We can probably consolidate a lot of that into more centralized locations and more colonized areas. I think that is Job One for me.”
As the report outlined, Criswell said the city’s downtown public safety facilities “are totally, woefully inadequate.”
“They are functional only if you stretch the term functional as far as you can pull the letters apart,” he said. “That’s no good. We shouldn’t be operating that way. We are going to have to make some hard decisions. We are going to have to make some difficult choices about how we move forward.”
A summary of deficiencies and needs for the City of Mineral Wells' 22 facilities.
Voters two years ago rejected buying the former Bank of America building and renovating it into a new City Hall. Gilmore said the current City Hall and annex have outlived their use and not worth renovating. A new public safety building, estimated at between $10 million and $15 million, is identified as a top priority for the next bond package put to voters, though it is not sure when council will move forward with that.
“Mineral Wells as a city government has made do for a long time to just make something work when it really wasn’t any good for that use anyway,” Criswell said. “That City Hall building is no good. I believe an organization is best when it is connected and we are not. We are scattered all over the place. Even if these buildings were in tip-top shape they are terribly inefficient, in my opinion.”
Criswell said he, Finance Director John Moran and Gilmore plan to meet again soon and go back over the report and begin addressing immediate concerns and looking at long-term solutions.
“We need to start looking at and thinking about the long term and the use for some of these things,” Criswell said. “We are going to have to start making some decisions. We have had some conversations internally about do we have issues that are an immediate concern to the safety of the public.”