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For decades, Dunedin officials have been talking about building a new city hall/municipal building. Now they are preparing for a groundbreaking ceremony in early May for the more than 38,463-square-foot complex at 737 Louden Ave. The project is expected to be finished in September 2022.

DUNEDIN — Some city commissioners March 31 framed their reason for voting to award a $20 million bid for the construction of a new city hall and parking lot in two words: "It's time."

For decades, Dunedin officials have been talking about building a new city hall/municipal building.

Now they are preparing for a groundbreaking ceremony in early May for the more than 38,463-square-foot complex at 737 Louden Ave. The project is expected to be finished in September 2022.

"It's time to do this," said Commissioner Deborah Kynes, who made the motion to award the bid, complimenting staff, as did other commissioners, for their work of various aspects of the project.

"It's the right thing to do. I want it to be 75 to 100 years old, and if it's not, I will be haunting your wonderful new, little City Hall," she said, drawing laughter from her colleagues.

Commissioner Moe Freaney said that when she was preparing her comments for the meeting, she kept saying "it's time."

Freaney, a former assistant city manager, said she thought the city needed a new City Hall 20 years ago.

She noted that many other projects have been built, such as the Dunedin Library and Hale Activity Center. Everything came before a place for city employees "and they waited," she said.

"The city employees have been working in obsolete, poorly functioning buildings for more than two decades," Freaney said.

Commissioner John Tornga agreed it's past time to build a new city hall.

Though he previously voted against the project because he was opposed to any new tax increases to finance it, he said all the information he has seen appears that has been accomplished.

"I don't see anybody else wanting to do that (raise taxes)," Torgna said. "There's some issues but I'm going to move right along on that," he said.

Commissioner Jeff Gow said he liked staff's presentation.

"It really puts it everything in one nice, neat package," Gow said.

The recommendation from the Finance Board gave him comfort, Gow said.

He also thanked Deputy City Manager Doug Hutchens, who retired this week, for his work on the project.

"You couldn't hit the ball out of the park any farther," Gow said.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she hopes the community takes time to read the staff's information on the project.

Praising staff for their expertise, she noted that City Manager Jennifer Bramley has gone through the process in building another City Hall while working for another government.

"So this is not her first rodeo with this," Bujalski said.

She added that Hutchens has "built probably a billion dollars’ worth of capital projects in the city over 35 years."

In the last three years, city officials has received a lot of public input on the project, she said.

"I think that's really important," she said.

She said she appreciated her fellow commissioners not looking at the project in a political way.

"But looking at it in a way as what our community needs and what our organization needs to be successful in the future," Bujalski said.

Pam Pravetz, president of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the project.

On March 25, the chamber's board of directors voted unanimously in support of the project.

"It was commented that this building (City Hall) has seen its days … and our lovely town deserves a little bit better government building," Pravetz said.

Having inadequate space for attendees at the current City Hall has been an issue. The new City Commission chambers will be designed to have 112 seats. The lobby provides space for additional inside seating along with two 98-inch monitor screens. The total amount of seating is expected to exceed 200. The current City Hall chambers is designed for 80 seats.

The bid was awarded to Manhattan Construction Co. of Tampa. Seven of 12 prequalified firms submitted proposals.

Manhattan was founded in 1896 and have an extensive portfolio of large projects, said Hutchens.

The general superintendent has 35 years of experience and is a Dunedin resident, Hutchens said.

"We have highly experienced construction professionals who will be on the job and our a few steps away from the job site, which is a really nice thing," he said.

The bids were relatively close in dollar amounts, which is a good indication of the quality of the documents.

"Because all of these companies are reading it the same way," Hutchens said.

City officials say the total cost of the project is $23.8 million. The bulk of the funding for the project, $16.8 million, comes from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax fund. Other funding sources include $3.8 million from the city's utility funds.

A bank loan or the issuance of bonds are being considered as financing options.

A public art component is featured in the design of the new building. It has been designed to include solar power and a standby emergency generator and be energy efficient. The current City Hall was initially used as a library, starting in 1964.