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Williamsport moves ahead with City Hall feasibility study

Williamsport City Hall where BKV Group will be conducted their feasibility study on. The architectural firm plans to be completed
Chase Bottorf
The BKV Group will do a feasibility study on Williamsport City Hall.
The architecture firm plans to complete it by September.

A Minneapolis-based architectural company will conduct the feasibility study on Williamsport City Hall and the city’s future office space needs.

City Council unanimously approved hiring BKV Group during a meeting Thursday.

The council’s economic revitalization committee recommended BKV out of 11 proposals submitted.

The study will examine the best option for city offices – buying a new building, renting space or renovating City Hall. Council budgeted $75,000 for the study. BKV's services cost less at $59,500.

City Engineer Bill Scott reviewed the proposals. Council President Adam Yoder said the choice of BKV was based on scoring that reflects capturing experience, approach and price.

Founded in 1978, BKV Group is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The company has locations throughout the country including Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas and Washington D.C.

Craig Carter, BKV’s public safety practice leader, spoke during the economic revitalization committee meeting over Zoom.

“We heard about this RFP and we're pretty excited about it because it hits a lot of the categories that we like to work on. There's obviously the historic building component, and we've got a lot of folks who were super-talented at that and it always makes for an interesting challenge to solve,” he said.

The study could be completed by September. A final report would be presented upon completion.

“We were looking basically to the very end of August to provide a report for you. We would want to say it would be the tail end of September. Maybe at the last Council meeting in September, we can provide a kind of a final report and ultimate presentation to council,” Carter said.

Local historian Bruce Huffman was content with BKV's background. He's been vocal about preserving City Hall.

"I'm glad to see that this proposal is coming forward since the RFP process was announced... It's great that we're gonna get some input about our magnificent city hall at 245 West 4th Street," Huffman said at Thursday's meeting. "I look forward to seeing what ideas they (BKV) can come up with."

City Hall has been vacant since fall of 2021. Water damage from storms, ADA upgrade needs and interior degradation raked up investment. ADA requirement costs were part of the reason council moved, said council member Jon Mackey during the meeting.

A federal lawsuit kicked off the series of events that led to the closure. The Center for Independent Living of North Central Pennsylvania sued the city in July 2020. City Hall lacked a ramp for people who use wheelchairs, and the group said it was unsafe. The lawsuit was settled in February 2021. It required the construction of a ramp and a modified elevator. The city spent $164,516 on an exterior ramp completed in December 2021 – after City Hall was empty.

Some council members, including Yoder and Vice President Eric Beiter, wanted more information before making a decision.

The city sought bids for City Hall last year. They received three, including one more than $50,000 higher than the $499,000 asking price. The bids came from Neil L. Felver, owner of Herbal Gifts in South Williamsport, who bid $499,000; Tim Butters, owner of City Hall Ventures LLC, of Williamsport who bid $100,000; and JBAS Realty of Jessup that bid $550,500.

Council tabled the bids in September, then sought the $75,000 feasibility study.

“Last fall, we had some bids to settle City Hall. The majority of the council was hesitant to do it at that time, because we were missing data of one. Some alternative options that had been discussed that we were interested in to see what they look like people were offloading the asset,” Yoder said during the committee meeting.

City Hall is a historic building built in the late 1880s. BKV Group’s historic preservation experience is widespread, Carter said. They have worked on historic structures throughout the country and completed Americans with Disabilities Act upgrade work for a historic school in Illinois, according to Carter.

“The goal is to rely on your (council) knowledge of the existing facility, and ultimately, where you envision the city to go in the future to kind of wrap things together. We'll bring ideas to the table and prompt you with specific thoughts and concepts to make sure that we're pretty forward looking,” Carter said.

Chase Bottorf is a graduate of Lock Haven University and holds a bachelor's degree in English with a concentration in writing. Having previously been a reporter for the Lock Haven news publication, The Express, he is aware of the unique issues in the Lycoming County region, and has ties to the local communities.

The Lycoming County reporter position is funded by the Williamsport Lycoming Competitive Grant Program at the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.

You can email Chase at chasebottorf@wvia.org