Supervisors argue over ambulance building

BY DI STAFF | MARCH 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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On Thursday, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors had a contentious session in which they voted on sending out a  “request for qualifications” to find architectural and engineering firms to design the proposed multipurpose Medical Examiner Building, 800 and 808 S. Dubuque St.

The vote passed 4-1, with Supervisor Pat Harney voting no.

“It’s nothing to do with the Ambulance Service, it’s a much-needed facility,” he said.

Harney said he understood his vote was a symbolic gesture and the project would still move forward, but he said he cannot go back on his word to the taxpayers.

When the board purchased the former Carquest building, 821 S. Dubuque St., he said, he promised citizens the property would be used as the Medical Examiner Building, and he said he still believes it is a better location.

“I don’t like the idea that in this facility, the ambulances will have to back off the street and into the garage; [at Carquest], it would have been planned for a drive-through so they could drive in,” he said.

Steve Spenler, the director of Johnson County Ambulance Service,said he doesn’t see backing in as a major issue.

“Ideally, we would drive through, but we’ve been backing into an extremely tight space for years with very little issues,” Spenler said. “We require a spotter, but I think the crew is adept at backing those vehicles up, so I don’t see that as a major safety concern.”

Other supervisors, including Rod Sullivan, questioned why Harney would promise something like that.

“One person can’t make guarantees; it’s always a board of people,” Sullivan said.

Harney said he understands the supervisors have changed since they bought the Carquest building but said he would continue to stand by his word.

Supervisor Terrance Neuzil said the board didn’t originally purchase the Carquest building with any specific intention, and the study to find a location for the Medical Examiner Building never identified the Carquest building as a potential location until several years later.

“Looking now at the potential of what’s occurred since some of those decisions were made, which primarily is a new vision for the south downtown side of Iowa City,” Neuzil said, “I think there is much better potential for that piece of property other than an ambulance.”

— by Ben Marks

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