Look, I know it's a cliche: "It's about saving the children." But in this case it's true.
And not only the children -- we're also talking about saving the lives of everybody who works at or visits the Salem City Hall and Library.
I feel strongly about this, earthquake-proofing the Civic Center buildings so they won't collapse in a major earthquake. We in the Pacific Northwest know this is a matter of when, not if, because hugely powerful Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes occur with semi-predictable regularity.
And Oregon is due. For The Really Big One.
Unfortunately, City officials have lost interest in making essential seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library.
Why? Because the money this would have cost, $20 million or so, is now slated to be spent on a supersized, overpriced police facility whose price has jumped from $30-$40 million to $60-$80 million in just a few years, owing to a doubling of its size from 75,000 to 150,000 square feet.
Yes, Salem needs a new police facility. The current one on the ground floor of City Hall is too small. Also, the area where the Police Department is housed likely will be crushed under three floors of rubble when The Really Big One earthquake strikes.
So a few years ago, City officials correctly recognized that Police Department staff needed to be in a seismically sound building. They also correctly recognized that if it is important to save the lives of police staff, it also is important to save the lives of everybody who works at, and visits, City Hall.
In 2014 the plan was to build a new 75,000 square foot police facility on the Civic Center campus, AND earthquake proof City Hall. (Making seismic upgrades to the Library also was being considered, in response to public pressure from Salem Community Vision and others to do this.)
This is the first slide in a January 2014 City Council work session presentation. The proposed three story 75,000 square foot police facility with underground parking is on the right, overlooking (and partially over) Mirror Pond. A renovated and seismically reinforced City Hall is on the left, in the background.
Note the title of the presentation: NEW POLICE FACILITY, CIVIC CENTER SEISMIC REINFORCEMENT. Two complementary goals, to be paid for by a Public Safety bond.
Make the Police Department staff safe by getting them out of the unsafe City Hall building. Make everybody else also safe by seismically reinforcing the Civic Center. Other renovations to the Civic Center also were planned .
Total cost estimate for all of this in 2013: $70.5 million, with about $35 million being the direct cost of constructing a new 75,000 square foot police facility with expensive underground parking.
Now fast forward to yesterday, February 22, 2016. The slide below is from a presentation made to another City Council work session -- after the size of a proposed new police facility at a different location doubled to 150,000 square feet.
The Mayor, city councilors, and other City officials no longer talk of making seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library. Naturally the clear and present danger of The Really Big One earthquake hitting the northwest and devastating Salem still remains.
As does the validity of this quote from Linda Norris, the former City Manager, in an October 2013 Statesman Journal story:
The building she refers to is City Hall. The same applies to the Library.
Visitors and staff at the Library, including children enjoying StoryTime, wouldn't be able to get out alive if a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake hit.
This bothers me. A lot. I hope it bothers you also -- enough to get you to email the Mayor, city councilors, and other City officials: firstname.lastname@example.org
Say that you are submitting testimony for the February 29 City Council meeting where the only agenda item will be a public hearing on plans for a new police facility.
Urge the Mayor and City Councilors to restore funding for seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library.
Tell them that if it is vital to save the lives of Police Department staff by getting them out of the unsafe Civic Center, it is equally vital to save the lives of everybody else who works at, or visits, City Hall and the Library.
Remind them that a January 2014 poll of 400 registered voters commissioned by the City of Salem found that the preferred answer of a clear majority, 59%, was to do BOTH: seismically upgrade City Hall and the Library, and build a new police facility.
To me it is morally wrong to risk the death of children at the Library because City officials have chosen a supersized and superexpensive 150,000 square foot police facility over a perfectly adequate 75,000 square foot police facility -- which the Mayor and Police Chief were happy with until recently.
Please consider coming to the Monday, February 29 public hearing in the City Council chambers (6:30 pm; arrive a bit early to sign up to testify) and speaking in person about how you feel.
Lastly, I encourage you to read the highly readable Salem Community Vision position paper, "Salem's New Police Facility: The Best Way to Achieve It." Yes, I wrote it, so I'm biased. But it really is highly readable.