Work being done on Governor Trimble Place in Hillsboro will result not only in additional lighting, a decorative clock and the demolition of the former Armintrout law office, but also a new green space area, and the reconfiguring of Trimble and, likely, Governor Foraker to one-way streets.
After several inquiries this week from The Times-Gazette, Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie laid out those plans in an interview Friday in the newspaper office, along with providing a digital rendering of the completed project. Earlier this week McKenzie had discussed the placement of the clock and installation of light poles, but the other changes were not described in detail until Friday.
Justin Harsha, the council president pro temp, on Friday expressed dismay that council was not informed of the changes.
McKenzie said the decision to reconfigure Trimble makes sense in connection with his belief that the old fire station at the corner of Trimble and North High Street will soon end up in the possession of the city as part of a deal with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire Station for Paint Creek to purchase the new fire station on North East Street, which the fire district is occupying under a lease agreement.
McKenzie said the old fire station can be used as a much-needed meeting space for council committees, the planning commission and others. Those meetings are now being held in a small conference room at the city building or the municipal courtroom at the Highland County Justice Center, when those arrangements can be made. He said the city needs a facility for such meetings that is handicap accessible and large enough to accommodate members of the public.
He said the city could also lease the building to various groups and organizations for events.
The safety director said he anticipates criticism that the new green space area is adjacent to the old city building which is now owned by Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, much of which is office space leased by The Times-Gazette. But he said the likelihood that the city will end up owning the old fire station – labeled “City Event Center” in the artist rendering — was the impetus leading him to make the changes.
McKenzie said the project – utilizing $78,000 in funds gifted to the city in 2013 by the William C. Mason Charitable Remainder Unitrust — will include freeing up parking on the south side of Trimble, much of which is now designated for county employees who work in the courthouse. He said reserved parking for those individuals, including judges and the county prosecutor, will be relocated to the west side of the courthouse.
When the Mason funds were gifted to the city – originally as an anonymous donation until The Times-Gazette reported the source of the funds in January 2016 – a letter accompanying the check stated, “It is my wish that the funds be used for a special project to benefit the citizens of Hillsboro. I would not want the funds to be used to pay accounts payable or any outstanding bills. The mayor shall have full discretion as to the direction of the funds. Thank you for this consideration from an anonymous donor and longtime resident of the city of Hillsboro.”
Designating all the spots along Trimble for the public will allow more parking for people who attend committee meetings or other events at the old fire station, said McKenzie, as well as for customers of The Times-Gazette, which will be losing storefront customer parking due to the creation of the green space — a complaint McKenzie heard from the newspaper this week as the city’s plans became clearer.
McKenzie acknowledged he could have done more to publicize the changes that are being made. He said that a construction career spent mostly in the private sector has instilled in him an attitude of getting projects accomplished, rather than “beating a dead horse” with years of indecision or stagnation.
“Everyone’s got an opinion,” he said. “It just prolongs the process. You’ve got to make a decision and go with it, or you can take forever but nothing ever happens. This is not a new idea.”
Hillsboro City Ordinance 70.20 – based on similar language in the Ohio Revised Code – states that the safety and service director “shall have the power” to do a number of things McKenzie has ordered done on the Trimble project, including “determine and designate one-way streets,” “regulate and limit parking on streets, other than in parking meter zones,” and “mark traffic lanes, center lines, and individual parking spaces.”
McKenzie said that once it was decided to begin the demolition of the old Armintrout building – requiring the closing of Governor Trimble Place – simultaneously proceeding with the lighting project made sense, which led to his decision to proceed with the more-involved green space creation.
McKenzie said the green space development is not the same as a plaza project promoted by Hastings a few years ago, which would have eliminated Governor Trimble entirely in favor of a large park.
“It’s not a plaza, it’s a green space,” said McKenzie. “I’m not trying to do something around council. These are things that are left up to the safety and service director. I take public safety very seriously. I didn’t like the idea of closing the whole street. “
McKenzie said one-way traffic will flow from West Main Street onto Governor Foraker and then onto Governor Trimble, emerging onto North High Street. He said parking spaces along the west side of Foraker, which will also likely become one-way, in front of the Administration Building and private businesses will be repainted in new angles to allow vehicles to park when entering Foraker from West Main Street.
McKenzie said new sidewalks will be installed in front of the property owned by Hastings along Governor Trimble, but the mayor will be assessed those costs on his property taxes, as are others who participate in the sidewalk project. Hastings will also be assessed the cost of demolition of the Armintrout building, which he owns, as part of the city’s demolition assistance program.
Harsha, who has been serving as council pro temp while council President Lee Koogler is on a leave of absence, said Friday, “I’ve never heard anything about it.”
He said that even if McKenzie has the authority to carry out the project, it was a significant change that should have included conversations with council, as well as businesses that are impacted.
“That would be the easy way to do it,” said Harsha, adding, “I feel we should have been more informed about it. Hopefully, moving forward there will be more communication.” In regard to meeting space, Harsha said he remains hopeful that the second floor of the city building can be used for that purpose someday, but issues of handicap access have to be solved first.
McKenzie said construction will begin soon on a fountain which will be installed on the southeast corner of the courthouse square at the intersection of High Street and Main Street, where the county’s flagpole currently sits. McKenzie met recently with county commissioners to discuss that project.
The idea of a fountain for the courthouse square – other fountains have existed there in years past — has been discussed on and off for the past several years since Bob and Ann Bagshaw approached the city about donating one. The Bagshaws will provide funding for the fountain.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.