Last week’s reveal of the City of Dubuque’s possible plan for a former scrapyard was surprising in a couple of ways.

One surprise was the scope of the plan — a nearly $12 million project. More on that later.

The other surprise was that Dubuque City Council members were surprised.

Based on comments at Monday’s work session, they had no idea such an extensive and expensive plan was in the works. In his 26 years as city manager, Mike Van Milligen has made it a priority to not surprise his bosses — council members — especially in a public meeting. So this surprise was a surprise.

In rolling out their proposal, which is said to be in the preliminary stages, even city staffers acknowledged the plan is “audacious.” It is every bit of that. Not only would it transform the former Blum Co. scrapyard at 16th and Elm streets into a beautiful city park, including additional recreational amenities, it would feature a newly constructed home for the Leisure Services Department.

Wait. What?

Leisure Services officials explained that their current home at Bunker Hill Golf Course is inconvenient for the public, particularly lower-income residents who are more likely to fill out registrations and other forms in person rather than online.

And that’s a leading reason for taxpayers to fund a multi-million-dollar headquarters? Is it possible that some people at City Hall (or Bunker Hill) have a “solution” looking for a problem? How hard are they trying to come up with economical approaches to meet the public’s needs?

Yes, it is not convenient for citizens, wherever they live, to trek to Bunker Hill to take care of Leisure Services paperwork. So, some changes to better accommodate the public are in order. And the “audacious” plan does include expanded facilities for recreational programming.

But city officials can’t find a way to meet its administrative needs among its present property holdings — City Hall, City Hall Annex, Historic Federal Building and, especially, an expanded Multicultural Family Center? City Council members already signed off on funding in the next fiscal year’s budget that would expand the hours at the Multicultural Family Center specifically to increase access to leisure services program registration. How about giving that solution a chance to work?

Or, what if another city department with less need to accommodate walk-in traffic to swap spaces with Leisure Services, or move to another city-owned building (several of which are not conducive for walk-ins)? Or set up place(s) for intake of Leisure Services paperwork?

We haven’t studied the floor plans of all municipal properties to make specific recommendations, but then again, we shouldn’t have to. That is for Van Milligen’s team to figure out — at least to present some options in addition to a glittering new building.

The preliminary plan shown to City Council members last week was surprising, audacious and pricey. Obviously, the “want” is there. Now, city staff needs a more persuasive case for the need.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board.

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