OTTUMWA — The price tag was large at over $5 million.

Now, the Ottumwa City Council must decide whether the investment will be worth it — and how to pay for it.

The council and staff received an update regarding a number of improvements to City Hall, everything ranging from bringing the historic building up to full Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, to revamping the current heating and air conditioning systems, and electrical systems.

The building has been lacking in all of those areas, and as the building continues to age and costs remain uncertain, it could be more difficult to maintain. Architect Allen Varney of Willett Hofman & Associates, and West Plains Engineering's Mike Drahos were on hand Tuesday to give officials an update on what the improvements could look like.

Both men were proponents of what they called "Hybrid 2," which is the work that carries the highest value, but also potentially the most bang for the buck. A big part of that option would provide more air conditioning to the building, while not wasting any of it. In a sense, it would make each room in the building comfortable.

"It would put small fan coils in each room that runs on refrigerant, so you can still use natural gas and replace the radiators with hot water," Drahos said. "Like in this room (council chambers) we would replace a noisy air conditioner with a quieter one at both ends, so you can keep the air conditioning and maintain a noise level that sounds good."

Currently, City Hall is full of window air-conditioning units, but the air conditioning isn't the only aspect of the project. Several rooms and bathrooms would have to become ADA-compliant. For instance, a one-room bathroom on the second floor would be divided into two bathrooms. Landings and ramps on the outside of the building would be built.

Just doing the bare mechanical and electrical upgrades would cost $1.3 million, said Varney, who estimated a complete Hybrid 2 overhaul would be done in three phases, starting on the first floor. That cost did not include lighting, which Varney and Drahos recommended be LED.

Other options also were presented, such as geothermal, which Drahos said would require tearing out the green space by the building to build wells. The building currently has a baseline system. Drahos said it would be the cheapest fix ($921,550), but not the best option.

"The building has really no air conditioning on the second floor, so you can't have two offices and both of them have thermostats," he said. "And we wouldn't be adding air conditioning on the floors that don't have it."

One of the other key elements is keeping the historical look of the building, particularly inside with lighting fixtures, etc. Varney said the city building in Cedar Rapids, a very similar structure to Ottumwa's building, is required by the federal government to keep its historic look, and has seen some improvement.

Councilwoman Holly Berg wondered if the heating and air conditioning could be done as a separate piece, because of the timeliness of certain grant opportunities.

"It can be a separate job, but we have to have the electrical upgrade with it," Drahos said. "We'd have to have the power to run the air conditioning system."

The discussion then turned to the funding for a potential project. City finance director Kala Mulder said the city would have to apply for grants, but there also is capital improvement money set aside to match a grant.

"If we can get some of this other stuff done, some of this remodeling done through grants, then I don't know why we wouldn't do it, if it was grant money," she said. "Of course, my goal would be to try to fund not only the HVAC system so all the employees are comfortable in City Hall, but also being efficient at City Hall."

City Administrator Philip Rath shared an experience working in a building that also went through a similar upgrade with the air conditioning system.

"I'd say the advantages from a comfort level for the occupants in the building spoke for themselves. It had a great impact on productivity," he said. "I think last year we picked up on some things that we really weren't set up to handle. We're in a professional position where we can't be closed to the public for months.

"So I'd just say these are some of the things we're considering, not just fixing today's problem, but trying to look ahead and plan for future issues that might exist as well."

City staff asked for guidance from the council on how to proceed, as the next steps include locating funding options for the project.

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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