Citizens and the Marana Town Council got their first look Aug. 13 at architectural renderings of the new town hall and municipal complex planners hope will become the core of a growth boom expected in Marana's rural northwest.

Plans for the complex, which is expected to rise on 20 acres of fallow farm fields adjacent to the current town hall at Barnett and Lon Adams roads, have been in the works for more than four years.

The plans created by Durrant Architects were unveiled during a special session of the council and included a conceptual drawing of the proposed three story, 73,000 square foot town hall building.

Designs for an ambitious town core that surrounds the town hall include a commercial center, athletic facilities, low and moderate-income apartments, a new high school and a community college annex.

Although a firm price tag for the project isn't expected until a contractor is hired in October or November, Marana Finance Director Roy Cuaron said he expects the town hall portion of the complex to come in at between $13 million and $17 million. The town is expected to break ground on the project before the end of this year, and move in by 2004.

Plans for the town hall building and low and moderate-income apartments are well underway, but plans for the school sites are still "very preliminary," Marana's Assistant Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said.

"There has been some preliminary discussion with (Pima Community College) and the (Marana Unified School District) but nothing is firm. These are things that we're trying to make sure we're in a position to do down the road as the population grows," Reuwsaat said.

The municipal complex is expected to consolidate most of Marana's nine municipal buildings that lie scattered throughout the town into two or three centralized locations.

"We've really outgrown our facilities and now have departments in different locations spread out all over, some of which are in leased buildings. We decided we need to centralize our services because it's more convenient for the public, and also because it helps us to deal with the expected growth of the town government," Reuwsaat said.

Currently, the town's municipal court is located in a building at 13555 N. Sanders Road that was originally a bar, and the town's leased development services building is sandwiched between a furniture store and a discount clothing shop in a strip mall at 3696 W. Orange Grove Road.

The Marana Police Department is headquartered in a prefabricated building across from the existing town hall, and Marana's water utility is housed in a small mobile home at 12775 N. Sanders Road.

"I personally spend about an hour and a half each day just commuting back and forth between our different department buildings," said Marana Development Services Director Jim DeGrood, who is overseeing the development of the new town center. "Besides eliminating the time wasted by town administrators driving back and forth, I think the consolidation has other less tangible benefits, such as people in town government being able to be more effective simply because they can communicate better."

DeGrood said that the newly released architectural drawings of the town hall are a "fairly good" representation of how the finished building is expected to look, but the choice of building materials that will be determined later in the design process may change its appearance somewhat.

The town hall's facade and the design of the surrounding streetscapes were drawn from architecture and natural design existing in Marana, and are intended to invoke the history and culture of the town, Reuwsaat said.

Durrant's presentation of the architectural renderings listed agriculture, the Sonoran Desert, aviation, flat roofs, cotton and trains as some of the "Marana design precedents" used in formulating the project's overall appearance.

Town planners are projecting more than 7,000 homes from several housing developments planned for northwest Marana, with much of the growth expected in a five-mile agricultural area surrounding the proposed municipal center.

In planning for the imminent housing boom, the town formulated an amendment to its general plan in 2000 that included design standards for the northern rural region.

Focus groups and technical advisory committees comprised of developers, business owners and neighbors worked with town staff and planning consultants and identified several "needs" it would most like to see implemented for the town core.

The recommendations included a community entryway into the town center and making either Sandario or Lon Adams roads Marana's "Main Street."

The focus groups also expressed their desire for a strong sense of community character that incorporates Marana's agricultural and rural heritage.

"The design for the town municipal complex reflects that," Reuwsaat said "It sets a development standard for North Marana and how the area can develop. Besides the building, we're also looking at streetscapes and setting themes for how the area can develop. It fits the area and the design guidelines reflect our historical past. All the material and influences looked at so far have some tie in to Marana and it's history."

Paying for the municipal center was complicated by the town's purchase of the Trico Electric Cooperative's former headquarters at 5100 W. Ina Road last year.

The town, which is now using the old Trico building as a maintenance facility, spent $2.9 million from a $10 million bond sale conducted in February 2000 that was intended to finance the new municipal complex, Cuaron said

"Of those bonds, we have between $7 or $8 million left after we used almost $3 million to pay for the Trico building. So we have $7 million plus interest left. The decision the council will have to make is, if it's $14 million for the town hall, how do we pay for it?" Cuaron said. "My recommendation, based on the current interest climate, is that we go out to bond. We won't know exactly until we know the final price, but part of it will most likely be paid for with bonds and the balance has yet to be determined. It could be bonds or it could come from our reserve fund."

The 5-acre complex of 10 two-story buildings that are planned as low to moderate income apartments adjacent to the proposed town hall are being built by a private foundation and are expected to be completed next year.

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