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Time for an early plan

It could hardly have come at a worse time.

With tax revenues dangerously low, city officials learned Wednesday that the City Hall building on Market Street faces some serious structural problems. In fact, the situation is so bad that the building’s main entrance has been closed while engineers work to figure a way to shore up a limestone canopy that is no longer attached to its primary supports, an arch that is leaning and decorative elements that are now supporting weight they were never designed to bear.

City engineers reported Wednesday that other structural problems in the 46-year-old building include bowing walls, corroded metal, cracks in interior walls that were described as big enough to put a person’s hand into, and a falling floor slab that is leaving some interior walls “hanging in the air.”

The City Council agreed to move $170,000 from a parking lot fund into an emergency repairs fund, but that money is likely only to buy temporary measures to protect life safety. There is ample reason to believe that nothing short of a major renovation — or possibly even a new building altogether — will prove sufficient in the long run.

Given the concerns raised by city engineers this week, it would seem prudent for Suffolk’s city council to begin considering potential sites for a new government building — or at least to develop a plan for separating the various arms of Suffolk’s government structure into different city-owned buildings. When a portion of the Market Street building has collapsed, it will be too late to take a deliberate, considered approach to solving the problem.

City officials are correct to spend a little money to stabilize the building where so many employees work and so many citizens visit each day. But they should be thinking today about where those functions will be housed in the future.