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When the City of Spring Hill purchased the Northfield complex in 2017, it had plans to move a number of city services to the former Saturn headquarters. Among those services were both the city’s police department and public library.
More than $1.6 million was spent in the design of those two spaces in addition to the cost of moving codes and planning to the building. The original purchase price for the building was $8.18 million.
Instead, Worldwide Stages made an offer on the aging building, situated at the edge of Spring Hill’s city limits, in 2020, and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen then voted to sell the property for $9.2 million. That sale officially closed in June 2021, and the city has been renting space inside the building for the planning and codes department since that time.
Without that space, the city was back to square one with no place for police or the library to go within the near future, something then-mayor Rick Graham warned the board about when the sale was first proposed in 2020.
“We just don’t have enough money for new self-standing, more expensive buildings without raising property taxes again, and I don’t think any of us have the appetite for that,” Graham said. “Where’s the solution to take care of these five buildings? Where are you going to build them and fund them?”
Those questions now face a board with only $40 million in debt capacity for the 2022-23 fiscal year, and $25 million of that debt already allocated to the I-65 interchange and Buckner Lane expansion.
During an advance meeting – formerly called a retreat – with staff and the board, City Administrator Pam Caskie revealed to BOMA members that with the current financial situation, only one of the two buildings could be funded during this fiscal year cycle, and all other major capital building projects would only be funded every three years.
“We have to take the city where we found it,” Caskie said. “We cannot lament the decisions of boards before us because they did what they felt was best for the city at that time.”
The Spring Hill Fire Department is also in need of a fourth fire station in the Northeast area of the city where June Lake and the interchange will be built. Currently, that area is not serviced in what Caskie called a “reasonable response time,” which could push construction for either the library or police station back another three years or longer without additional funding sources.
Discussions on Friday, however, centered around the board’s desire between a new police department or a new library building. The city is seeking community response in order to help them reach a decision on what the citizens of Spring Hill would prefer.
For Chief Brite, a new police station would mean his department could move into one facility, rather than having to balance staff at two locations. The space opened up at city hall would be an added benefit for city services that are currently in spaces too small to accommodate what is needed. Additionally, the space would eliminate security concerns for staff and police officers.
A new library would allow for more programming from a library staff that already out-performs larger libraries in the area. The Spring Hill library is now expected to be a Level V facility due to the service population, which puts them at the same expectation level as libraries in Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis metro areas. The state’s benchmark would recommend a 34,000 square foot facility.
Under normal circumstances, the city would have funding to build both facilities and take care of smaller projects, but when the I-65 interchange was announced, much of those projects were put on hold in order to accommodate the necessary funding matches for completion. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic and significant decrease from income line items budgeted, the city cannot afford to build both without crippling the city’s budget for three years, Caskie said.
With US 31/Main Street as part of the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s three-year plan, and Mayor Jim Hagaman’s recent announcement that TDOT could move even faster, the likelihood of local funding being needed to finish that project within that time frame is high.
Don’t forget the added need for a fire station once the interchange is complete and development at June Lake begins could jump to the top of the list.
Caskie said she had a few Aces up her sleeve but wanted to board to be prepared to have to choose. There are funding grants available, though few and far between, for road projects that could potentially free up debt service, those are never guaranteed.
While the forced choice between the two seemed rash and perhaps a worst-case scenario to some board members, Caskie said she would rather have them prepared for the worst rather than hoping for the best.
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