Should the Tolt River Dam actually break, the current Carnation City Hall building and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will likely be reduced to a pile of rubble. 

If this happens, the city’s ability to coordinate emergency responses with first responders and utility companies would be a lengthy and arduous process. When the false-alarm dam warning happened over the summer, it was a wake-up call for the city. 

“The council has been talking about the need for a new city hall for a long time,” said Councilmember Tim Harris in an interview. “The current city hall has some structural problems. It's really just not a safe building.”

The initial structure of the building was constructed in 1917 and later expanded into the old fire station in 1955, with many remodels since then, according to staff reports. Until recently, city staff was deciding between two potential new sites: the American Legion building on McKinley Avenue/Bird Street and another at the corner of Tolt Avenue/Bird Street. 

During a May 6 special meeting, Carnation City Council selected the current building being used for American Legion as the new site in a 4-1 vote. Harris said the decision was reached after substantial public input and research was conducted. However, not everyone was initially happy with the potential siting location.

American Legion is situated next to the Tolt Commons Community Shelter, which hosts weekly farmers markets with fresh produce and goods. He said people jumped to the conclusion that the new building was going to be constructed on the site where markets are currently held. 

“That was never the intention,” Harris said. “We never ever intended to build on the lawn.” 

Resident Rob Gilliam said the city council has been pushing this program forward on a fast-track and “under a veil of secrecy.” He argues the conceptual drawings initially showed the building taking up 20-30 feet of lawn space, and updated designs indicate part of the lawn will be removed for parking. This is an unpopular move that has drawn “vehement public opposition,” he noted. 

During an April 5 council meeting, many members of the public spoke out against the proposed development. Gilliam said placing a large building in the Tolt Commons area would change the open-air quality of the plaza, cast a shadow over the lawn and bring more cars to a pedestrian zone. 

He said many businesses and community groups are frustrated because they feel the city did not include them in any of their conversations. Several individuals have expressed concerns about the city’s lack of transparency and communication, he added.

According to Harris, council has goals to eventually expand the Tolt Commons and make the whole area more of a community center. In most small towns across America, he added, there is a city hall surrounded by a park. Harris said he wants to see this vision become a reality in Carnation.

The new building will continue to house the non-governmental organizations currently using the second floor at the original city hall. Additionally, about 1,800 square feet of space will be added for the Empower Youth Network, which presently occupies the American Legion hall. 

A committee comprising Harris, about five citizens and two city staff members chose ARC Architects to design several options for the new city hall. Council recently selected a single option that gained popularity from the public. This option will provide a downstairs council chamber that also serves as a community room, which will open onto the lawn at the Tolt Commons.

The city applied and received $1 million from a state grant, and is currently waiting to hear back about a $1.5 million federal stimulus grant. In order to be eligible for the federal grant, Harris noted, the city needs to be “good to go” by the end of 2021 for construction to begin after the new year. 

Between now and July, the city will be taking steps to find structural, acoustical and environmental engineers to build out the actual plans. He said upcoming public hearings will focus on the inside design of the building. 

While funding is not guaranteed, Harris added, being ready to build by January will put the city higher on the list for federal support.

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