Monday, December 17, 2001

Fairfield council weighs projects

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD — Culture or justice? Over the next few months, Fairfield City Council will decide whether to pay for a new $12.3 million justice facility or a $9.6 million community culture center.

        City leaders want to do both projects but don't have enough money to do both at once. They are expected to make a decision by the spring.

        Whichever project council chooses to do first, a bond issue will go on the ballot to finance it, said Jim Hanson, the city's finance director. The bond would then be repaid from income tax revenues.

        “We have drastically outgrown the justice center, but the culture center is an extremely important part of the puzzle in this city,” said Councilman Ron D'Epifanio.

        Fairfield, which is nearly 90 percent white, has a growing minority population, especially Hispanics, according to 2000 U.S. Census figures.

        Council is expected to discuss the issue and related costs today at a 5:30 work session. Many in Fairfield

        are clamoring for a community culture center, which would be 45,000 square feet, showcase plays and include a senior area.

        But others argue the current justice center is woefully inadequate. The city's police and court are housed at the current facility on Route 4.

        There are “serious deficiencies” at the 17,794-square-foot center, according to a report that went to council earlier this year. A proposed three-phase plan calls for a center that eventually could be 113,220 square feet.

        The overgrown, outdated quarters in the police department “will increasingly hamper the Department's ability to provide police services needed,” the report reads.

        The city bought the building, a former restaurant, and moved its police and court services there in 1989. Many believe that move was a mistake that has worsened over the years.

        “It wasn't adequate then and it's not adequate now,” said Mike Tiernan, president of the Fairfield police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 166.

        The municipal court, too, was found to be lacking space as staff increased to juggle rising caseloads, the report notes.

        Meanwhile, some residents who live near the proposed community culture center site in Village Green object to increased traffic and noise.

        About 160 homes make up the Village Green subdivision, which borders Village Green Park and the Lane Public Library. The pro posed center would go in across from the park near homes.

        “We feel the cultural center is a real positive for the city,” said Village Green Homeowners Association President Jack Loeffler. “I would rather have that than retail stores.”

        However, he added, residents whose homes were built before the park and library emerged are concerned about increased traffic — especially with a 77,000 square-foot Kroger store expected to open in Village Green by this time next year.

        The proposed justice center would go where the current Kroger store is off Wessel Drive across from the Fairfield Municipal Building.

        Two other buildings for office and retail totaling 37,000 square feet and a fourth, 30,000 square-foot building also are going in Village Green on the north side of the two-lane Wessel Drive within the next year.


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