Ivins Council wrestles with keeping things closed, pushing forward with new City Hall during pandemic

A sign marks the closure of a pavilion at Ivins City Park, Ivins City, Utah, April 9, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

IVINS CITY — During their Thursday meeting, the Ivins City Council debated two lingering questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic: How long the city will be keeping the doors closed on public and private facilities, and how will the public health crisis affect plans for a new City Hall? 

A view of the skate park at UNITY Park in Ivins City, Utah, on an unspecified date. | Photo courtesy Spohn Ranch Skateparks, St. George News

Despite the council’s decision at the April 2 meeting, Mayor Chris Hart said that previous to Thursday’s meeting, the city’s parks and recreation department put a temporary closure on the skate park at UNITY Park after crowds utilizing the facilities were not keeping social distancing. 

“We had folks there from other areas of the county that were gathering in groups of 12-15, and we needed to do something,” Hart said during the Thursday meeting, which was conducted through the Zoom app. “It was close to 35 (people) the other day.”

However, Councilman Cheyne McDonald, who had stated his opposition to closing the skate park at the April 2 council meeting, said he wants to city to lean toward reopening city facilities rather than closing them. 

“I want to make sure we open them up as soon as we can so we give people a place to go,” McDonald said. “It’s punishing the healthy people. At some point, we need to put the responsibility back on the individual to be sanitary and reopen our facilities.”

McDonald added that he was not suggesting going against Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directives designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. 

This March 2020 file photo shows Ivins City Councilman Cheyne McDonald at a City Council meeting, Ivins City, Utah, March 5, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I’m not advocating we violate any directives. I just think we need to be careful where we go toward taking away freedoms,” he said. “Individual freedoms should be more important right now. People are already feeling like their liberties are being infringed upon.” 

McDonald and fellow Councilman Dennis Mehr suggested reopening the restrooms at the city parks that have been closed since April 2. When City Manager Dale Coulam suggested the city parks or public safety departments didn’t have the staffing to monitor and keep the bathrooms sanitary and safe from the virus, Mehr suggested seeking volunteers that would come forward to keep the bathrooms clean. 

Councilwoman Sue Gordhammer said she doubted such volunteers would come forward and expressed concern it was too early to consider going back to business as usual. 

“I don’t take pleasure in closing facilities, but if we’re approaching a peak, I’m not sure now is the time to ask someone to wipe down doors and faucets,” Gordhammer said. 

At Hart’s direction, the council decided to monitor the closures in the city and reconsider them at the next council meeting on May 7. 

However, McDonald continued to express skepticism about future public health warnings about the scope of the virus.

“If they tell us in two weeks the peak is coming again, I don’t know if I’m going to believe them,” McDonald said. “We’ve been hearing the spike is coming. Is it going to continue for weeks on end? It’s getting a little frustrating.”

Council reconsiders new City Hall timetable

With uncertainty surrounding the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a discussion of the tentative city budget turned toward the timetable for the construction of a new Ivins City Hall, which already has a contractor and architect. 

This image shows a rendering of preliminary designs for the new Ivins City Hall featuring a rammed earth wall, Ivins, Utah, Feb. 6, 2020 | Photo of rendering by Hollie Reina, St. George News

While the city is expecting to be able to sell existing property to help fund the new city government offices, which would be built behind the present City Hall at 55 N. Main St., Ivins City Director of Finance Lane Mecham said the city is looking at having to spend $4.5 million if the sale does not go through.

Current plans are to break ground on the new City Hall as part of the annual Heritage Days in early September, though Hart noted the pandemic has even put that event in doubt

After discussion, Hart said several possibilities are on the table – from a delay to the timetable, continuing on schedule or delaying the project indefinitely. Mehr said he was leaning toward delaying the project.

“I know this may not be the popular thing to say in this group, but as people are working from home, I wonder if this project is going to need to be worked back,” Mehr said. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with spending $4.5 million if we don’t sell the property. I’m not comfortable saying we’re going to build a new city hall when people are struggling.”

However, Hart said an economic downturn might be the best time to keep the costs down on a new City Hall, as other canceled projects in Southern Utah will mean a more competitive bidding process that would make the new 11,000-square-foot facility less costly than if it was built in a more certain economy. 

A Zoom app screenshot showing the Ivins City Council in session on April 16, 2020. | Screenshot, St. George News

Hart compared the situation to debate during the 2008 Great Recession over funding renovations to roads and flood control in the Historic Township. He said after concerns about funding such a project during an economic downturn, the city ultimately saved money on the $1.5 million project that helped avert major damage to the township during the flood on Sept. 11, 2012. 

“I don’t think anyone looks back at the Township project as a mistake. I want us to do the smart thing in regard to City Hall,” Hart said. “Coming from a construction background, if the bid process is going to give substantial savings to the city, we’re going to want to take a good look at what will ultimately be best for the people in the city. There would be some serious advantages we should take a look at.”

Hart added the jobs that would be generated from the construction of the new City Hall may be a good prescription for the local economy post-pandemic. 

“We’re going to need to be part of the solution of the economy emerging from this pandemic,” Hart said. 

Councilwoman Miriah Elliott took a position between that of Hart and Mehr, saying the city will need to convince residents that now is the time to move the new City Hall forward.

“We need to be cognizant of what the mayor has suggested while being mindful of the appearance of it for our residents,” Elliott said. “We need to take this little by little and make our case of how this is a best use of funds.”

Ultimately, Hart and the council tasked Mecham with looking at the financial prospects for building the new City Hall and reporting back to the council at a future meeting. 

“I’m a builder,” Hart said. “I like to build, but I want to do the right thing in our city’s interest for sure.”

One aspect of the new City Hall was approved earlier in the meeting. In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the council approved $12,655 for initial site work on an heating, ventilating and air conditioning system for the new building. 

In other business, the council also unanimously approved a renewal of the city’s building and construction codes based on international codes that are updated every three years.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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