Updated August 13, 2020 - 6:03 pm
Henderson is using $2 million of coronavirus relief money to pay for an expansion of a City Hall entrance.
Council members voted last week to expand the lobby outside the City Council chambers. The vote added $2 million to an existing $14 million project to renovate the plaza and street in front of City Hall. To complete the lobby portion of the project, council members approved the use of money from the federal CARES Act.
The vote comes as Henderson, like other governments, grapples with the financial squeeze of the pandemic.
Henderson is spending twice as much money on the lobby expansion as it currently is on a grant program for businesses. Meanwhile, North Las Vegas, which received less CARES Act money from the county, has put $3.25 million into a small-business grant program, a spokesman said.
City officials say the expansion will help with social distancing, but the project had been discussed months before the coronavirus pandemic put normal life in America on hold.
Henderson was awarded nearly $30 million in CARES Act money from Clark County after the city missed out on a direct allocation of the aid. The city is required to provide monthly reports of its use of the money.
The wide-ranging relief bill allows governments to recoup costs associated with the response to the coronavirus pandemic, and may also be used for programs such as those that help small businesses.
Federal relief money may not be used on capital improvement projects that are not necessary due to the public health emergency, according to U.S. Department of the Treasury guidelines. However, the guidance does allow for the money to be spent on projects that improve mitigation measures.
Henderson Chief Financial Officer Jim McIntosh said the lobby project is an allowable use of relief money because it brings the city in compliance with public health measures. By contrast, North Las Vegas said it is spending less than $300,000 on modifying workspaces to allow for social distancing.
Henderson Assistant City Manager Robert Herr told council members last Tuesday that the project would add room for people to stand in line for security. He said now is a good time to complete the project because the entry is already shut down while construction is underway outside.
The two-story expansion will add about 1,700 square feet to each floor, according to the city. Its health screening space would include “enhanced air filtration/exchange” and temperature screenings as part of the metal detector, city spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said in an email.
The project is expected to be complete by the end of December, she has said.
Idea predates pandemic
A lobby expansion had been discussed in the past but was shelved until the coronavirus pandemic made it necessary, Richards said.
City records show expanding the entrance was in the cards well before Nevada or the nation ever saw its first coronavirus case.
On Dec. 9, 2019, the city started the bidding process for the plaza renovation project. The project scope called for the “renovation/expansion of the existing City Hall entrance.”
Herr acknowledged an expansion was part of the original scope of the project, but said the city was only working on design.
“We didn’t advance any of the construction,” he said. When the city learned more about the pandemic and what it would take to comply with health measures, the design came back, he said.
The contract the city signed with Las Vegas Paving Corp. in May shows an agreement to build new steps leading to City Hall with enough space to accommodate a potential entrance expansion of at least 1,500 square feet.
“This space will be used as the main entry for City Hall and for certain ceremonial occasions,” the contract states.
Herr, the city’s chief infrastructure officer, said he did not know how long before the coronavirus pandemic the city had considered expanding the entrance.
“We just know it doesn’t work today in the current configuration with social distancing,” he said.
Original funding breakdown
The original $14 million budget of the plaza and street improvement project included money from the Regional Transportation Commission, the Henderson Redevelopment Agency and the city’s parks and recreation department.