Lake Oswegans got a first look last week at early design concepts for a new "Civic Center" in the downtown area — a replacement for City Hall and a brand new police station next door.
They also got to weigh in on an important question: Should the new center still be designed and built as two distinct structures?
"The big difference is the degree of connection and connectivity between the two buildings," said Carl Hampson, one of the architects at the meeting from Mackenzie, the firm in charge of designing the project.
Originally, the police station was its own project, envisioned to be built next door to the existing City Hall on A Avenue. But earlier this year, the Lake Oswego City Council voted to replace City Hall entirely rather than pay for a costly list of overdue repairs and deferred maintenance to the current building.
"We kind of went on hold a little bit (for the police design) when we found out about City Hall," said Mackenzie architect Caitlin Cranley.
At the City's direction, Mackenzie began working to bring the City Hall project up to speed so that it could be designed under the same project umbrella as the police station. The two buildings have to be constructed separately in order to stay within budget (both projects are funded by urban renewal dollars), but designing them together will allow them to complement each other.
The police station already has an approximate internal design because its layout is dictated by the needs of the department and a few other requests from the City Council, such as spaces that will serve as new homes for Booktique and the Arts Council of Lake Oswego.
But there's still a lot of flexibility, particularly when it comes to the lobby and front exterior of the building and how those aspects will connect with the front of the new City Hall.
"We're pretty much looking at an open book," said Deputy City Manager Jordan Wheeler. "We want to open up that side of the block as much as we can."
At the meeting last week, Mackenzie presented illustrations of two possible building configurations, showing the entire block between Third and Fourth streets from a birds-eye view. Cranley stressed that the audience was not being asked to choose between the two designs, but rather to give feedback on features they liked or disliked about each one.
The final design could resemble either of the two examples, a combination of them or something else entirely, she said.
Option "A" showed the two buildings merged, with a single public lobby and primary entrance in the center of the block. The idea would be for almost every function of the building to be accessible from the lobby, with the exception of Booktique and the Arts Council, which would open directly onto A Avenue.
Option "B" showed the two buildings separated, with a public space running down the center of the block between them. The police station would have its own lobby at the front along A Avenue, with Booktique and the Arts Council set back behind it. The space between the buildings could be an outdoor courtyard, or partially enclosed.
"It does get cold here, but we're not Minneapolis," Hampson said. "But certainly, protection from the rain would be desirable."
Cranley also discussed some of Mackenzie's design cues shared by both preliminary illustrations, such as making the block pedestrian-oriented, making the structure fit in with Lake Oswego's village character and making sure the interior spaces retain a degree of flexibility to avoid "designing ourselves into a box."
Parking was one of the foremost topics on the minds of both Mackenzie's team and the meeting attendees. Cranley outlined the firm's preliminary plan for parking on the block, which involves freeing up space by creating a separate and secure garage for all of the City's police vehicles underneath the station.
"We know that parking is of a particular concern," Cranley said.
The LOPD's vehicle fleet currently uses the garage under City Hall and the parking area south of the building, taking up just over a third of the roughly 145 available spaces. Mackenzie's envisioned replacement parking lot for City Hall would be roughly the same size as the existing one, but the removal of the police vehicles would effectively add about 50 spaces for City staff and the public.
Both designs allow for the possibility of either a single ground-level parking lot along the west side of the block, or an additional second-story structure on the south side of City Hall, similar to the current building's parking facility.
A few of the attendees were residents of Fourth Street, directly opposite the City Hall side of the block, and they cautioned against making the proposed second-story parking area too large, saying that they didn't want it to dominate the view out their windows.
Another big topic of discussion was the need to maintain the south end of the block on Evergreen Road as neighborhood-friendly. Several audience members also reiterated one of the most common requests for the project: to maintain the existing park space on the southeast corner of the block.
"We consider that to be our park," one of the neighbors said.
Hampson said Mackenzie shares that goal, adding that it also makes sense to maintain the park for design reasons: As the lowest point in the block, the park is the natural gathering point for all of the stormwater runoff; keeping it allows the water to be collected and treated, creating less runoff into Oswego Lake.
There didn't seem to be a clear preference between the two designs at last week's meeting, but Mackenzie's architects said the goal was more about collecting feedback for future design work. The meeting was the first of several that Wheeler said the City plans to host in the coming months, each of which will focus on specific topics like massing, sustainability features and interior design.
Wheeler said there will also be considerable input from both the public and staff about the internal features and layout of the new City Hall building, ensuring that it will have the flexibility it needs in order to remain functional for decades.
"It's only been 30 years (since we built the current building)," Wheeler told the audience, "so we're embarking on this effort with the intention that we won't have to do this again for 300."
The 300-year figure might be a bit optimistic — the new building's exact lifespan will depend on the design, materials and the way it's constructed, which still need to be planned out. But Wheeler and Mackenzie's architects said one way or another, it will be designed to far outlast its predecessor.