Hanford City Council Makes a U-Turn on Renovating Bastille

After making an impassioned plea to save Hanford’s “jewel” during its March 7 city council meeting, the council members rejected a bid to renovate the historic building during its March 18 meeting. Three bids were submitted, with the lowest coming in at $982,000 by JTS Construction. The vote was 5 – 0 against.

The city council was informed at its previous meeting that the renovations would cost approximately $1million, and Hanford residents in attendance were encouraging them to make the leap.

But council members began to feel uncomfortable leaving the Accumulated Capital Outlay (ACO) with such little money. The ACO also funds Downtown revitalization projects, after school programs, and the Old Court House, which needs $500,000 worth of repairs. Lou Camara, Director of Public Works, informed the council that the ACO currently has $1.2 million, which would only leave $200,000 for all other expenditures if the council accepted the bid.

In addition, the nearly $1million will only renovate the outside of the building, such as replacing the roof and retrofitting the unreinforced masonry. The interior of the Bastille would still need to be remodeled and updated to meet the needs of any prospective tenant. Tenant improvements could cost more than a million dollars.

In light of the cost, the city council has started to entertain the idea of selling the nearly 120-year old building. In the mean time, it requested from Camara final bids on what it would cost to fix the uneven bricks on the west side of the building that are causing a tripping hazard and the work needed to keep the Bastille from further deterioration. According to Camara, a preliminary estimate for both jobs provided by JT Construction was $180,000.

The Bastille served as the Kings County jail from 1897 to 1964. After being used for several restaurants and night clubs the building’s last tenant left in 2009. The city of Hanford acquired the Bastille along with the Old Court House from the county for $1 in 2014. Hanford’s historic buildings have no maintenance fund like Hanford’s more modern government buildings.

Councilmembers Debate Options

Councilmember Justin Mendes has consistently been against the city forking over such a huge amount of money for the Bastille. “This is one million dollars for nothing,” he said. Mendes was in favor of using the money budgeted in 2015 to fix the Bastille, which was $600,000, to instead repair the Old Court House where the city has actual paying tenants.

The most notable change of heart came from Councilmember Sue Sorenson. Two weeks ago she expressed her frustration that the city was still in the talking stage since June of 2015 about renovating the Bastille and still hadn’t moved forward. Now, Sorenson conceded that maybe the council had possibly jumped the gun in deciding to entertain bids to fix a building with no tenant and for which the city has no plan.

Public comment had also swung from pleas to fix Hanford’s treasure two week s ago, to comments of how fiscally irresponsible the council would be to spend a large sum of money on the Bastille.

Sorenson suggested that the council slow down concerning making a decision about the Bastille and that spending a million dollars could make them look irresponsible. Mendes concurred, reminding the council that Hanford Police Officers were doing their own renovations on their head quarters on their days off.

“They are putting up sheet rock and painting while the council considers this?” Mendes said that it was shameful that this proposal even made it in front of the council.

Councilmember Francisco Ramirez was also against spending a million dollars on the Bastille, and said that after Hanford residents voted Measure K down twice the council had to start thinking outside the box.

Ramirez requested that the Carnegie Museum’s proposal to buy the building be put on the April 4 agenda. Until recently, most of the council had been against selling the Bastille.

Selling the Bastille Is Now On the Table

Patricia Dickerson, director of the Carnegie Museum, presented her proposal earlier that evening during public comment. She suggested that the city sell the Bastille to the museum for $1 and that her group, along with AMVETS, would start raising the money for renovations.

AMVETS, a national Veterans service organization, just added a Hanford branch through the help of local resident Darren Clayton. He said the idea is to turn the Bastille into a museum for law enforcement, first responders and Kings County’s military history is what got his attention.

Dickerson asked the city for a five- to ten-thousand-dollar grant to do some cleaning, painting and minor repairs to get the building open to the public quickly. Her intent is to open immediately for historical tours, ghost investigations, overnight stays, and weddings. Money will be raised by providing these services, along with forming the group “Friends of the Bastille” similar to “Friends of the Fox” in Visalia that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“This building belongs to the public and we want to open it to the public as soon as possible. Our goal is to keep the building as original as we possibly can.”

Dickerson plans to raise the million dollars in five years, though she says her group can accomplish the renovations for cheaper than the city. AMVETS have already come up with a plan to renovate the building by donating labor and materials.

In addition, the Carnegie Museum would not have to pay prevailing wage as the city would be required to do.

Buoying the Carnegie Museum’s ability to raise funds will be Travel Channel’s intent to film an episode of Ghost Adventures inside the Bastille. “It’s all branding” said Ramirez. “Three million people will soon see the Bastille on the Travel Channel.”

Ramirez’ request to put Dickerson’s proposal on the April 4 agenda got pushed to April 18. According to City Manager Darrel Pyle, city lawyer Mario Zamora needs time to do his homework on how to transfer the property without triggering prevailing wage.

To not incur that state requirement of paying prevailing wage the Carnegie Museum would have to buy the Bastille at fair market value.

“That may be minus $982,000” Pyle said.

One thought on “Hanford City Council Makes a U-Turn on Renovating Bastille

  1. Be real, people. It’s a rotting old jail! Unless they want to recreate an old-town historical center it should probably be sold for the land value. But hey, its only tax money.

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