The Pittsburg City Commission took action to shore up the city’s severe weather warning system.
The story actually starts months ago, when a wind storm knocked power out of much of the area. Because of that, when the sirens were activated, several of them did not sound.
City commissioners have asked city staff to make sure all sirens have some sort of backup in case of power outage, and to seek an upgrade to the city’s siren system.
Tuesday, the commission approved the low bid by Washington Electronics in the amount of $141,754.85 to bring the city’s sirens up to snuff, so to speak.
Public Works Director Bill Beasley told the commission that the city has five Federal sirens, five Whelen Vortex sirens, and three Thunderbolt sirens. The Vortex sirens are the only ones with battery backup, while the Thunderbolt sirens are older.
Plans call to replace the three Thunderbolt sirens with two additional Whelen Vortex sirens (at City Hall and Schlanger Park). The city will replace the Lincoln Park Thunderbolt siren with a new, omni-directional siren. This siren can reach the golf course and the baseball diamonds and will have the capability of being used as a PA system to warn golfers.
Included in the roughly $142,000 price tag is the upgrade of the existing Federal sirens to battery backup, and a narrowband transition to all sirens in the city. The price also includes the purchase of a CentrAlert emergency operation system.
“CentrAlert will allow for silent testing as often as we want,” Beasley said. “We would test daily, and if there’s a problem, it sends to a PC and says, ‘Hey, the enunciator’s not working’ or ‘The battery power is not working.’”
The alerts will also be automatically activated by the National Weather Service.
Commissioners debated an option for about $9,000 that would have added solar power to the three new sirens. Commissioners said that it would take about 12 years for the city to make back the costs on the solar panels.
“By the time we get doesn the road to 12 years, we’ll be ready for something else,” said commissioner Patrick O’Bryan. “We do appreciate the omni-directional siren. I think that is really the smart idea at the golf course and the ball diamonds.”
Before that, the city heard from Deena Hallacy, Pittsburg community development specialist, who came with a plan to use city-owned property at 18th and Locust.
The property, which was bought by the city using revolving loan funds several years ago, has been posted for sale, but has no takers.
“We have the opportunity to go after some funds and do something a little different than in the past,” Hallacy said. “The City of Pittsburg has the lot of the whole block at 18th and Locust that we have not done anything with at this time. We’ve put that on the market and it’s been sitting there. It’s not marketable as a development project because of the location of the sanitary sewer down the middle of the block. It would interfere with any housing development on the block.”
Page 2 of 2 - Instead, Hallacy proposed working with the Kansas Moderate Income Housing program within the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation for $280,000 in funding. Eventually, 8-10 homes would be built on the lot.
Essentially, Hallacy said, $200,000 of that would be used to relocate the sewer main and replace it, providing a new alleyway through the block. The remaining $80,000 would be for down payments and closing costs for low to moderate income residents working in Pittsburg. These funds would be in a loan, forgivable if the homebuyer staying in the property for 10 years.
The local match would be provided, Hallacy said, through the Pittsburg Housing Fund (Presbyterian Church Fund).
Commissioners and city manager Daron Hall celebrated the idea, saying that it takes a vacant lot out of being taxpayer-funded and puts families in houses and the property back on the tax rolls.
In other action, the city commission held a public hearing on issues related to the facade improvements at 808 N. Broadway. The former Hunan House building has been bought by Joe Kim to transform into a Bamboo restaurant. Kim has been pursuing a facade grant to upgrade the storefront.
However, in one of the last steps, the Kansas Historical Society, which must review all improvements within 500 feet of a historical building (in this case, the Stilwell Hotel).
The Historical Society disapproved of the improvements, saying the designs took away from the historical look of the building. City commissioners can vote to overrule these recommendations. Early on, O’Bryan sided with the historical society.
“As far as I’m concerned, I think it is totally taking away from the historical part of this building,” he said. “You’re putting a new facade over the existing brick without doing anything to the brick...I agree this building looks like hell right now, but they are clearly making the first floor attractive and smart looking. As far as I’m concerned, the second floor has been bastardized. I don’t disagree with the Kansas Heritage Society.”
O’Bryan found himself the only one who felt the facade improvement should not go forward, as the other commissioners said that the process had already proceeded to far to turn around at this point. Namely, that the commission itself had approved the facade grant weeks earlier.
“I’m OK with it moving forward with the plans as submitted. First, it was already tentatively approved by the city. Second, we set a precedent when we had other buildings repaired with a block of that that aren’t ugly buildings. The sketch doesn’t give anything about what it will look like. But I’m assuming it will be a beautiful building. You walk a fine line in respecting heritage, but moving forward at the same time,” said commissioner Michael Gray.
Ultimately, the commission voted 3-1 (Rudy Draper was absent) to approve of the facade improvements.