Archive for Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Downtown likely to lose post office

October 24, 2007

The future of the downtown post office doesn't look as bright after officials from the United States Postal Service came to Tonganoxie on Monday to speak to community members and the City Council.

Despite a petition showing the community's support of the downtown office, Russ Rainey of the Western Facilities Service Office of the U.S. Postal Service and other Postal Service officials said they thought there was no way the city would be able to keep the 45-year-old downtown staple at its current location.

"Tonganoxie is growing and it's not going to stop growing," Patricia Hanson, manger of post office operations in Kansas City, Mo., told council members at their meeting Monday night. "That's great for your community. Where we're at right now, we're back on track. But now is the time to build the new post office or we could lose this project. What we're trying to do is not only best suited for our needs, but for our customers."

Earlier Monday morning, postal officials invited the public to tour the downtown post office to get an idea of the building's cramped conditions.

Mobile bins full of mail were positioned behind the service counter about 6:30 a.m. in the Tonganoxie Post Office as several postal employees busily moved and sorted mail.

During business hours, the area behind the counter doesn't resemble the same scene.

But in the morning hours, with the post office's limited room, the area becomes a temporary storage space.

"As you can see, there's not a lot of room to move around," said Hanson, who guided visitors through the post office Monday morning.

About 10 residents attended the tour, including Mike Yanez, city administrator, and all council members, aside from Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal.

Hanson spoke about the growth Tonganoxie's post office has encountered, from three routes in 1960 to six today.

The current post office is 2,100 square foot. The proposed post office would be at the southeast corner of Laming Road and Woodfield Drive, north of U.S. Highway 24-40. It would contain 5,000 square feet of space with a larger lobby and expanded parking for vehicles.

With many local residents urging that the post office remain downtown, the idea of keeping a presence downtown, as well as building at the new site, has been kicked around.

During Monday's council meeting, Council member Paula Crook mentioned that the downtown Tonganoxie that Rainey had surveyed two years ago looking for a possible site for the new office was not the same downtown it was today.

"Today we have tons of properties that could fit your facility," Crook said.

Crook mentioned that Pelzl's hardware and variety store, a longtime downtown business that soon will be closing its doors, had about 10,000 available square feet, along with access to alleys for trucks.

Rainey just didn't think that even a bigger location downtown would be feasible because selecting a different site would further delay the project.

"If you're asking us to start the project all over ... I don't know how to respond to that," Rainey said. "You may have 10,000 square foot at a building. ... I think you are asking to ultimately end up without a new post office. There are too many communities vying for our resources and our dollars. I just think you would be shooting yourself in the foot if you asked us to start this all over again."

The Postal Service officials also shot down the idea of the city being able to keep the downtown office and build an annex in the approved location on Laming Road.

"Paola got a split factory and we've paid for it ever since," Hanson said during the morning tour. "We realized it just didn't make sense to do that anymore."

She said the configuration has cost the Postal Service greatly in additional expenses in terms of transportation and added equipment expenses besides creating a "logistical nightmare" with transporting mail between the two places.

About the only possibility of keeping any form of the post office downtown would be for a downtown business owner to open a contract retail location. The retail location would be staffed by the business and would be able to collect mail and sell postage, but it would not have the post office boxes.

Hanson said so far there had not been any interest in starting a contract retail location.

Vestal said Tuesday he knew the downtown location wasn't big enough, but he was disappointed with the meeting's outcome.

"As soon as they started talking, I knew where it was going," Vestal said about Monday's meeting. "The post office is just a mainstay of our downtown, and seeing something like that go ... well it just doesn't sit well with me."

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