Ashland to hire an architecture firm to determine the cost to renovate Pioneer Hall

The city of Ashland will spend $41,041 to determine the final costs to fix up Pioneer Hall, the go-to emergency shelter for the homeless in the winter, despite concerns about costs from councilors.

After hearing a report in September that determined the building is potentially unsafe when there’s more than six inches of snow or three inches of ice on the roof, the City Council has attempted to explore alternative options for a long-term homeless shelter and the overall future of Pioneer Hall, including possibly selling it, but no decisions were made.

At a study session meeting Monday night, staff informed the council that they plan to move forward to complete a final design and develop firm cost estimates to renovate the building. The project is set to be done by January.

“We need to look at the deficiencies and find a design to fix those deficiencies,” Public Works Director Paula Brown said at the work session. “Right now we’re moving forward to do that final design engineer and cost estimate so we can let you know how much it’s going to cost.”

Brown said the city has to contract out the work because the city doesn’t have the ability to assess all the elements of the building, resulting in the high cost. But by completing the final design and cost estimates, the city can make an educated decision on the building’s future.

“We don’t have a structural engineer to do the whole engineering evaluation,” she said at the meeting. “Forty-one thousand might seem like a lot, but what you get for that is exactly what you need to do to make this facility community-capable.”

City councilors have been wary about the hefty bill since previous meetings. Councilor Stefani Seffinger said at the work session Monday she’s not sure whether Pioneer Hall is a good fit for being a shelter in the long term.

“My concern is … this is an under-utilized facility and I don’t know if anybody knows what it should be used for — so is the structure there the best use of this building?” Seffinger said. “I know parks (department) doesn’t want it.”

Councilor Greg Lemhouse suggested at the meeting the City Council should drop Pioneer Hall all together.

“I start to wonder, ‘What is the significance of Pioneer Hall?’” Lemhouse said, “Why are we spending money to save it? ... I think you made a great case for doing it, but still, that’s $40,000 on a building that maybe we really don’t need or utilize that much.”

The log building, built in 1921 with new additions added in 1988, has served as the winter shelter for the homeless two or three days a week since 2013. The city also rents it out to the Boy Scouts twice a month and to residents for gatherings on the weekend “fairly often,” officials said at the meeting.

“For all of our city’s facilities, you wouldn’t shut it down and walk away,” Brown said. “Right now we don’t know exactly what has to be done — so given the assessment and cost analysis, we can make those decision a little more clearly .… We do have a lot of unknowns, but without moving forward, you’re not going to have an answer at all.”

Pioneer Hall, located at 73 Winburn Way, is set to open for the homeless Sunday, following the City Council’s vote at its Oct. 19 meeting to again allow its use as a shelter. The shelter has a capacity of 66 people, according to the September assessment presented to the City Council.

The September assessment listed a number of deficiencies with the rafters, chimney, fire alarms, floor joists and floor beams that needed to be addressed. It also concluded that the building would not stand under an event of heavy snow or ice storm.

Councilor Michael Morris said it’s important for the city to know what’s wrong with Pioneer Hall, then the council can “come back and say ‘yes or no’” on plans to address it.

“No matter what, we have this city’s facility that has deficiencies. We will know what those deficiencies are and be able to pass that along,” Brown said. “If this building is not going to be used as a city’s facility, we’ll know exactly what we’re passing on … We don’t have to make those repairs, but we’ll know exactly we’re giving away.”

— Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.