Borough Hall

Borough hall 001

Out of last week’s Administration and Finance Committee meeting, it has been proposed that Council take action at the next meeting whether or not to proceed with the demolition of Borough Hall and the Police Station. This will make way for a new Borough Hall/Police Station complex. This proposal came out of a facilities and grounds study done by architects,  Spiezle and Associates. They have concluded that Lansdale Borough Hall and the Police Station are in dire need of renovation and updating, and they presented four different options for renovating and updating these two buildings. Their plans range from simply repairing deficiencies and therefore, keeping the two buildings intact to building a new police station and keeping the old Borough Hall to demolishing both buildings and starting from scratch. Needless to say, the last recommendation has caused quite a stir here in town (I think most people, including myself, agree that a new Police Station does make sense). 

Demolishing Borough Hall in particular strikes a nerve because it is a historic building in town and as we all know, Lansdale has not done well when it comes to preserving old buildings. In fact, one of the most stinging criticisms here in Lansdale is that we have bulldozed just about every historic structure in Borough– the Tremont, the Eitherton, the Theater, the Longacker, the Bienacker, the list goes on an on. In speaking with my resident elders, I know that it was with great pride that the One Vine Street was dedicated as Lansdale’s new Borough Hall in 1988. Twenty-five years have gone by since then and like our homes it needs updating and repair work, but demolishing? That is a question the residents must answer. And in contrast to the buildings named above which were private property, Borough Hall belongs to ALL of us residents.

The architectural firm, Spiezle and Associates, was contracted to do a facilities study in order to independently and objectively assess the condition of Lansdale’s structures. I understand this rationale to a certain extent. What I don’t understand is that Borough Council will be voting in two weeks to decide if Spiezle will also be contracted to provide the architectural plans for the Borough. If this is the case, then they just wrote their own ticket. According to laws of the State of Pennsylvania, professional services– such as a architectural, engineering and legal– do not have to go out to bid. Our Borough Manager can simply recommend any professional with Council’s approval (that includes consultants which we have had our fair share of). My point here is that there are no competing estimates or proposals; we simply have to accept Spiezle’s recommendation. Are there other ideas out there with lower estimates? We don’t know. As a business (and the Borough likes to say that we should operate more like a business) considering a large project, typically a minimum of three estimates is recommended. In the case of the construction and/or repairs of Borough Hall we have only one estimate which is from Spiezle and Associates.

For example, according to Spiezle’s facilties and grounds assessment on page 19 it is stated that, “Additionally, the Borough Manager does not have private restroom facilities so he/she must use the public restroom through the lobby.” This may be a cheap shot, but does the Borough Manager really need his or her own bathroom? Are there other issues in the Facilities and Grounds Study that need a second look? Other items that are perhaps, nice but not necessary? I am an elected official, and I have an obligation to the taxpayer and not to staff.

On a more philosophical level, I will ask this question: how does spending lavishly on a new Borough Hall improve the lives of the average Lansdale resident? As a resident, I want my toilets to flush, my lights and heat to work, my roads to be relatively smooth and my community safe and my taxes commensurate. In 1970, Lansdale’s population was 18,451. That is 2,182 MORE than in 2010. There were no computers back then AND the Borough functioned in a smaller space at 421 West Main Street. How is it that now in 2013, we have outgrown our current Borough Hall? (By the way, the average attendance by the public to Borough Hall meetings is 13) Could the answer be an ever expanding bureaucracy?

Finally, I have heard time and again from the administration that the Borough needs to invest in itself or no one else will. Do people flock to Doylestown for their Borough Hall? For that matter, has Pottstown’s new Borough Hall revitalized the their downtown? Will a new Borough Hall improve my property values and entice businesses to come to Lansdale? These are important questions that need to be asked before we commit to spending a lot of money on a project that has debatable benefits to the average tax payer. As always, I welcome your thoughts and if you feel strongly either way about this issue, please contact me or your Borough representative. 

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The above photo is the corner stone for the Lansdale Post Office that became Lansdale Borough Hall in 1988.

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14 responses to “Borough Hall

  1. Michael Parzynski

    I am a fairly new resident to Lansdale, having only been here ten years. I have seen pictures of the many old structures that have been removed from the borough for progress, some replaced by ugly structures such as the Rite Aid. The Borough hall is an iconic structure in Lansdale and the front facade should be preserved. The current entrance to the building was reworked in the past and could be modified again. The police station should be replaced with a new building, but with a little rework, Borough Hall could be renovated and connected to that new police station to improve its funciton.
    Private bathrooms? I work at a multinational, billion dollar company and the C-level executives use the same bathrooms as everyone else.

  2. very well said/thought. I would agree that this needs to be revisited viewing it form how does this benifit Lansdale as a whole not the council and the employees.

  3. Harry A. Henning III.

    The police station needs to be re donewith new bilding
    . borough hall should stay as it is. This is our history as post office and now borough hall we.
    We have lost a lot of historical building in town. that should not have been destroied.

  4. Andy,

    Good afternoon. Just read your blog. There is a troubling insinuation and a glaring inaccuracy which I ask that you correct. Please see below.

    “What I don’t understand is that Borough Council will be voting in two weeks to decide if Spiezle will also be contracted to provide the architectural plans for the Borough. If this is the case, then they just wrote their own ticket.”

    In reading these sentences, you seem to insinuate that Spiezle, a well-respected firm, which was properly vetted by the Borough, provided a report, inaccurate and misleading, to the Borough about the poor conditions of the Police Station and Borough Hall, so that they, Spiezle, would then be the likeliest candidate to be selected for the architectural services required should the Borough proceed with renovations or new structures. Such an insinuation is troubling as you can see from the responses to your post both on your blog and social media as the public has misconstrue these statements. One person commented about “[not] allowing for competitive bidding”. Not to mention, if Spiezle provided an inaccurate and misleading report with the intent that it would lead to additional work for them, that would be professional malfeasance.

    As for the inaccuracy, see below.

    “My point here is that there are no competing estimates or proposals; we simply have to accept Spiezle’s recommendation. Are there other ideas out there with lower estimates? We don’t know. As a business (and the Borough likes to say that we should operate more like a business) considering a large project, typically a minimum of three estimates is recommended. In the case of the construction and/or repairs of Borough Hall we have only one estimate which is from Spiezle and Associates.”

    As you well know or at least should, the estimates based on the concepts presented are preliminary. They are not the actual construction estimates. Once the design is done, we’ll have construction estimates. Even at that point, it is still only an estimate. In the event we proceed in any fashion, and while the professional services piece need not be put out to bid (I liken this to allowing the Chiropractor that consulted with the patient, took the x-ray and made the diagnosis, to be the same Chiropractor that fixes the subluxation. Having someone else read your notes about the patient just isn’t the same.), the contract for the work will be a fully public bid controlled by the Commonwealth’s well established bid practices and laws for such work, which is a competitive bid process. While it’s possible we’d only have one bidder, it’s highly unlikely. The selected contractor will have to be deemed to be the lowest responsible bidder as prescribed by the law (insured, bonded, etc.). At that point the estimate becomes construction costs/budget to perform the scope of work. If we don’t like the price, we can rebid, value engineer (you know get rid of the Borough Manager’s private washroom and other lavishness), redesign or choose not to proceed at all. By the way, Spiezle will not be such a bidder as they are not a contractor.

    Further, you question how spending “lavishly” on Borough Hall improves lives, but you’ve left out the Police Station. Is it okay to spend lavishly for the Police Station? I noted in a previous blog that you complimented Borough Council for the additional police officers and the reduction in crime. Should we continue to shoehorn them into the same space? I believe reasonable folks would agree that if the police officers and their staff have the space and equipment to more efficiently do their job that would improve lives. In that same vein, I believe that the same can be said for Borough Hall and Borough staff.

    I look forward to seeing your post correcting these items.

    PS – I don’t recall seeing you at the last A&F committee meeting, nor do I believe that the minutes of the meeting have been posted.

    • Dear Reader, this is my response to Councilman Dunigan.

      Dan,

      As always, I enjoy a good debate.

      To address your first point, yes, Speizle was vetted to do a facilities and grounds study, however doing a study to show deficiencies and preparing architectural drawings for anticipated construction are two very different things– especially when the architectural drawings will cost close to hundred thousand dollars. Perhaps, my question should be this: Will the conceptual architectural design of the project go out to RFP?

      The original motion which you presented at the Business meeting on 4/20/2010 states that “Speizle Architectural Group, Inc. … develop an assessment and long range plan for the Borough’s facilities, parks and grounds based upon the Borough’s RFP dated December 15, 2010…” Does an assessment include architectural drawings? If it does, then that was a sly way of issuing an RFP for architectural services that the Borough may not have wanted to indicate back in 2010.

      You mention construction estimates. I understand that construction will go out to RFP. However, the architectural design itself– which comes from the architects– sets the tone and price for the construction. Perhaps, it is the most important piece of the entire picture, and yet the architectural work is not going out to bid. Am I wrong here? I also mention very clearly in my blog that professional services don’t have to go out to bid (I don’t agree with it) according to Pennsylvania State law. I have given that information to the readers. If the administration decides ‘no’ to an RFP, which they have every right to, then explain to the public why.

      You mention chiropractic and X-rays. I see your point, however, there is also a law known as the Stark kick-back or anti-referral law that also exists. This law was developed mainly because medical doctors in the 1990’s owned MRI facilities, and they referred patients to themselves for MRI’s. So what happened? All their patients received MRI’s. Essentially, the diagnosis drove the assessment and not the other way around. This then drove up costs for everyone– with insurance that is.

      You mention the bathroom and the engineer being able to change or get rid of that. If a bathroom is in the architectural renderings, the engineer’s job is to figure out how to make it work not question whether or not there should be one.

      On to the Police Department. Public safety is number one. However, I will concede that as the mayor, I am partial to the police department. To be impartial though, consider this: serious crime has decreased 30% in the Borough in three years. That’s significant. Notice also that in those three years the space has remained the same. What made the difference? Officers and not office space. With that point made, I will concede that the police station needs to be built new from scratch. I disagree that Borough Hall carries the same weight as the Police Department. In addition, there is the historical aspect of Borough Hall which some residents may not value, but many do.

      Should you want to have a beer before the next meeting, please let me know. I really do take pleasure in debating as it helps to exercise that most precious thing we have. It may sound crazy, but I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this email. It’s like playing tennis, you always want to play some better to improve your game.

      Thanks,

      Andy

  5. Mr Mayor! I’ve finally gotten around to starting my blog as I originally promised to do. Your article today really inspired me, so thanks in advance. As you might imagine, I differ a bit with some of your conclusions, and I certainly encourage your readers to seek out an alternative viewpoint. Have a look at the first post of http://www.relativetolansdale.org. As always, I know you enjoy the debate. Cheers!

    • Wonderful! I think this spirited and intelligent debate will prove to our constituents that we are indeed thinking about the issues at hand making us worthy of their votes, Republican, Democrat, Independent or other. I hope this debate engages the public and perhaps, one day we will have televised Council meetings– as I know you are in favor of– that cause residents to switch their television stations from 2 Broke Girls or whatever is popular at moment to Lansdale Borough Meetings.

    • To my dear, esteemed Councilman Burnell:

      I am, indeed, happy to see that you have started your blog. However, the arguments in your blog post, “An Alternative Viewpoint” are off in a few areas.

      After going through the Speizle Report again and looking at the original RFP from December 2010, I have even more questions about the thought process behind the RFP and the necessity for such a comprehensive report. First of all, the RFP was vague in its Purpose of Assessment, which a firm could utilize to their advantage in securing additional work. There is nothing improper in Speizle’s doing this. And contrary to your assertion that I question Speizle’s credentials, there is nothing in my blog that indicates this. What does raise eyebrows is that they did the assessment and now they will do the work. Fair enough?

      Here is a different way of looking at the necessity of the Speizle Report. As I mentioned, I went through the Report with a fine tooth comb and I have come to this conclusion: many of the issues pointed out were trivial such as worn carpet in the Library, overgrown weeds at the Electric Building, peeling paint, rust stains on the sink in the Parks and Recreation Building, etc. Did we need to pay an architectural firm to make these observations? Couldn’t we have formed a group of Borough employees to have put together such a report? And for the larger projects such as the Police Department, Borough Hall and 311 West Main Street, we could have simply issued RFP’s for each which would have given us variation not only in design but also in competitive bidding. Currently, we’re locked into Speizle based on the work they have done in their facilities study. I guess the real question here is, how much have we paid Speizle to date and how much will we pay Speizle for their architectural plans? Depending on the answer, this debate may go away.

      On to the consultants. You mention the forensic audit which was later changed to an operational audit as their was no criminal wrong doing on behalf of the previous administration. Yes, there was deficit spending. And do you know what the previous Council and Administration spent money on? Stony Creek Park and 311 West Main Street were two large ticket items. Here is an interesting observation: the previous Council and Administration spent into their reserves for the above projects, while the current Council and Administration has borrowed and will borrow for their spending projects.

      You mention the HR Study. Could that have been done by our solicitor? Most large law firms will have an HR lawyer/specialist on hand. Lansdale Borough has approximately 100 employees of which 30 work in the Police Department, which is a quasi-military operation with well defined job descriptions already in place. That leaves 60 employees. As I understand it, we have paid over $100,000 to Hess which amounts to $1,667 per employee for their job description. Just another way to think about the use of a consultant here. I’ll leave it at that.

      A consultant for IT? I’ll agree with you here.

      A Consultant for Facilities and Grounds. Already discussed that.

      You forgot to mention the Consultant, AMS, and their report for 311 West Main Street. That’s one that we put on the shelf, because it was useless. $50,000. (See my previous blog on 311 West Main Street.)

      You mention that if we don’t spend money on Borough Hall, that people will take an attitude of “If the Borough doesn’t care why should we” is just silly. Do you really think that by building a fancier Council Chambers that more residents will come to Council meetings? As for needing a gateway to town, doesn’t Borough Hall do that now?

      Concerning the cheap shot and the Borough Manager’s bathroom, I’m glad you mentioned the security issue because I almost included it in my blog. I find this almost laughable. What about the rest of the poor employees on the first floor? If the Borough Manager gets a secured zone, what about everyone else? Or perhaps, we should have bullet proof glass at the entrance and only let one person in at a time. So much for that friendly welcome and small town atmosphere. I guess we’ll have to change the Brand narrative.

      While I wasn’t at the Administration and Finance Committee meeting, I was at the Council meeting when Councilman Dunigan read his summary of the Committee meeting in which he indicated that there would be a motion to accept the recommendation that either option 4 or 5 would be voted upon. Option 4, which was scored higher by Speizle, proposes the demolition of Borough Hall. Knowing my constituents and their concerns for older buildings in town, I felt it was my obligation to inform them of the motion.

      And finally, there are the broad statements you have made regarding “thirty years of neglect” and “an administration that has done little to keep it house in order”. As I mentioned two blogs ago, here is that “demonization of your predecessor” again. If the Borough was that horrible and that neglected, why do we have employees who have been here for so long that we celebrate them at each Council meeting with Milestone certificates? If the Borough was that horrible, why didn’t employees leave en masse? Please understand that I am not an apologist for the previous administration, but also understand that I don’t have to accept unquestioningly what this administration proposes either. To quote Michel Foucault, “Most things in the world are neither as good or as bad as people make them out to be.”

      Denton, you are good Councilman and I enjoy this debate, but I am starting to get carpal tunnel.

  6. Well said Andy. I really hope we can save the charming, historic Borough Hall building. I agree with you, “how does spending lavishly on a new Borough Hall improve the lives of the average Lansdale resident?” And, will a new Borough Hall bring more people into Lansdale to shop, eat, and interact with all of the wonderful people who live and work here? Lansdale is a special place, a hidden gem, and I think we should work on finding ways for more people to experience all that Lansdale has to offer. Lansdale desperately needs it.

  7. Mr. Mayor! Thanks for your full response to my blog. I feel it only proper that I clear up a few concerns I have with your statements, but rather than further clutter up your comments, folks can head on over to http://www.relativetolansdale.org to see the latest in our evolving dialogue. Cheers!

  8. Mayor Szekely,

    I want share some questions I have about your post:

    1. I don’t think it means anything that the consultant used for the facility study is also contracted to produce plans to execute the option chosen by Borough Council. When shopping for the consultant, I would be looking someone who was able to provide the total package (recommendations & plans & track record). As I understand it, you need a plan to put a job out to bid.
    2. Yes, your instincts were right, it was a cheap shot to focus on the borough manager getting a private restroom. I think that decision makers and staff, even at the local level, are entitled to some privacy and security in the office. I have worked in facilities with locked doors for over ten years. I am accountable to address the concerns of my customers and stakeholders – by appointment, not on demand or went I’m trying to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, maintaining a safe workplace these days requires doors that lock, and staff only workspaces.
    3. I would be great if you could come up with a way to preserve the building. Perhaps you could start a non profit and buy it from the Borough. Then it could be retasked.

    I agree that the building should be saved if possible. But we should all think twice before assuming that the Borough is trying to pull a fast one. I don’t that that is clear at all. Let’s stay on the high road.

    • Dear John,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and comment. I gather from your comment, “I don’t think it means anything…” that you’re not 100% sure. In my conversations with the public, lawyers and architects, there is an overwhelming unanimity among them that question the process of giving the contract for architectural work to the very same firm that did the Facilities and Grounds Study. I will also address Councilman Burnell’s criticism having a few RFP’s issued, which would be costly and time consuming. Of all the properties that the Borough has, Borough Hall and the Police Station are the only two that have issues that would require architectural improvements. What I am getting at here is that in the not too distant past, the Borough chose one architect without competing bids and do you know what that resulted in? That disaster at 311 West Main Street. Another reason why I mention this is because of the argument that I have heard that Speizle has an impeccable reputation. That may be true, but whenever I hear that because of so and so’s reputation someone or something shouldn’t be questioned, a red flag goes up in my mind. It never hurts to ask too many questions when the public’s money is at stake, which begs another question. How much have we paid Speizle and what do we anticipate paying them in the future? My argument may well be moot depending on the answer.

      Regarding the Borough Manager’s restroom and security issues: the Speizle report mentions giving the Borough Manager and his/her staff their own restroom and/or moving them to the second floor or secure area. The argument I have with this recommendation is that Speizle doesn’t elaborate on the security for the rest of the first floor. If the report had suggested a restroom devoted to the public with a separate restroom strictly for Staff, I probably would have not taken the “cheap shot”. (I can only imagine what my critics would have said if our previous Borough Manager had requested his own bathroom.)

      Your last comment still necessitates saving the building which is why we are having this discussion. Finally, in my opinion “taking the high road” as you say implies stifling debate. That’s not what I was elected to do. And as can be seen by the public reaction to the issue of Borough Hall, it is my responsibility to bring that to the attention of Borough Council, which have done.

      Thank you once again for taking the time to comment on my blog.

  9. John,

    Thanks for your comments. I want to add some color to a few of the Mayor’s comments in response to you. First, Speizle was selected for the study after a months-long process involving over 25 separate firms, in no way like the 311 architect was selected. By way of comparison, Remington, Vernick & Beach (a professional engineering firm) was selected last year as the Borough engineer with no RFP, and have assisted us (excellently I might add) with various and sundry infrastructure projects without so much as a question raised. This is my basic concern with the implication that somehow we’re doing something “different” or “unethical” here when it comes to a professional Architectural firm. I would submit that the Mayor’s sample of public is limited and the question was not posed with the context I have just provided. If it were, would there be a similar outcry to replace or re-RFP the Borough’s Engineer EVERY time we do a slightly different project? I can cite you numerous examples in Public Works where exactly the same thing occurs, yet the overly concerned public is silent. So unfortunately I have to label this as “pot stirring.” (Not to mention, the streets would really never get paved.)

    As to multiple RFP’s, Mayor Szekely has the report as I do. Several other buildings were considered, and it would be inaccurate to state that none of them need any architectural help. These include 421 W. Main (ADA, Plumbing and other problems); Electric Services (ADA); 4th St. Pool (electrical service, mechanical ventilation); Library (HVAC); Public Works (HVAC system); and so and so on — there are many more issues. Not all are architectural in nature, but in any case I’m not sure how that obviates the need for such a comprehensive and impartial study. On the contrary, it seems to reinforce it.

    Lastly, the level of public reaction, in my opinion, was based on a premature implication that tonight we were voting whether to knock the building down and the decision had essentially been made. (See “pot stirring” above — in fact, the Patch initially made precisely that post until I corrected them — so I’m not making this up.) I am in no way saying that the Mayor was out of bounds in bringing this item forward. Merely that it was positioned and colored to elicit a highly emotional response, when we are SO far from any decision. We are voting to explore options tonight. One of those proposes knocking the building down. One proposes historic preservation. That’s where we are, and that’s what the conversation should be about. Calmly and rationally exploring the options.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  10. I attended the public presentation of the design for the New Municipal Services Complex tonight. I was very pleased to see that the Steering committee had been responsive to feedback from the community and presented a design that preserves the historic facade of the Old Lansdale Post Office AND provides for the needs of the borough municipal services under one roof. I hope that all who did not attend this presentation will come by the Borough Hall to see the design. It appears that a balance has been struck. Best part is that the funds for the project are already set aside. Lansdale had some good leadership on this project.

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