Few people doubt the city government will gain additional office space.

But what the new space will look like -- and how much it will cost -- remains uncertain.

At Monday's council meeting, architects made a formal presentation of findings from a $35,000 study they conducted for the city.

Baltimore-based Cho, Wilks & Benn Architects Inc. determined how much space is needed and reviewed 10 sites where extra space might be located.

The cramped city government and 35 of its 113 employees operate in about 16,076 square feet. The architects said the city should have 29,885 to 32,151 square feet to meet existing needs.

"In a regular office setting, this wouldn't be the way it would happen," architect Barbara Wilks said of the way operations are crammed into City Hall.

In five years, city government will need between 33,688 and 36,280 square feet.

Of the three alternatives presented Monday, the architects' recommended option is a two-phase project to produce a "campus-type setting" for city government.

The first phase would be an addition to City Hall to provide the necessary space for government operations. The second phase would be an adjacent new building for the Police Department located on city-owned ground on Longwell Avenue.

The architects assured the council the 10,000-square-foot expansion could be a "sensitive addition that didn't overwhelm" City Hall.

But council members and some citizens present Monday made it clearthey weren't wild about adding on to the former mansion, known as Emerald Hill.

Those who expressed reluctance about the addition favored an option that called for a new building to house both the PoliceDepartment and new city office space, on a parcel off Locust Avenue near City Hall.

Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein and Mayor W. Benjamin Brown suggested going a step further and renovating the first floor at City Hall and restricting its use to council meetings and ceremonial functions.

Wilks said that idea is workable, but explainedthat the firm recommended the expansion because it would keep City Hall as the center of government and also contain costs.

"You get the most out of your assets," she said.

The expansion option would cost more than $1.6 million for the first phase and more than $1.7 million for the second.

The option favored by the council would be at least slightly higher in cost if the desire to rework City Hall's first floor for limited use were included, said George Holback, project manager for the study.

"It would cost a little more because because we'd be dealing with two buildings instead of one," he said yesterday, declining to render an estimate of how much cost would be added.

The council took no action and said it will study the report.

The architects have the unenviable task of starting their work underone council and wrapping it up under another.

Thanks to last month's election, the composition of the council has undergone significant change since the firm was hired last October.

Back then, the council conveyed to the architects a vision of a project that included an addition to City Hall, Holback said.

The new council -- Stephen R. Chapin Sr., Orenstein and Kenneth A. Yowan won seats in May -- sent the message Monday that it would like to avoid building on to the historic City Hall.

"If that's the desire, we can do it," Holback said.

That's not all that has changed since Cho, Wilks & Benn started the study.

The previous council withheld the report from publicview until it had passed a budget containing $1.3 million for the project. Along with earlier appropriated money, the total set aside forthe expansion reached $1.6 million.

But the new council promptly recalled that budget and removed some of the money for the project.

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