City Hall design under way

Published 11:17 pm Friday, September 23, 2011

One entrance to the city’s Municipal Building has been closed for more than a year because structural engineers deemed it unsafe. The city has begun the process of finding a contractor for a new building.

The city has completed the first phase of the bidding process to build a new municipal center.

The two-step process began with a request for qualifications to build the new city hall and 911 communications center. That phase is complete, and the city is now working on a partial design to give the qualified companies.

“We did receive a good number of qualified bidders,” said Patrick Roberts, deputy city manager for the city.

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Once the partial design — about 35 percent of the work eventually needed — is complete, the qualified bidders can begin to prepare their proposals using that design. A full design will be prepared for the eventual winning bidder.

A new city hall building is needed because of multiple structural deficiencies in the old building, city leaders have said. The building, which was constructed nearly 50 years ago and has had few upgrades since, is suffering from structural and mechanical problems such as a sagging slab, cracks in the floors and walls, a corroded pipe system and more.

One entrance to the building has been closed for about a year, because structural engineers deemed it unsafe. Decorative elements in the walls surrounding the door are bearing weight they weren’t designed to hold, it was reported at a City Council retreat last year.

Recent natural disasters haven’t helped the problem, Roberts said.

“The earthquake definitely exacerbated the existing problems,” he said, noting the city called upon its structural engineer to examine the building immediately after the quake.

And during Hurricane Irene, water flooded the basement of the building and overwhelmed the pump system there, Roberts said. An alarm system is being installed to monitor the amount of moisture in the basement, he said.

City leaders hope to have the new building completed by 2013, Roberts added. That’s why they’re going with the expedited design process, rather than developing a full design for the builders.

Also under way is a study of the coverage area of the city’s radio system. A new 911 center and equipment are part of the project.

The study will help determine where the main tower will function best, Roberts said. But he added that the current system is working just fine right now — more than 60,000 radio calls were made during the hurricane with no busy signal, he said.

“We just want to make sure, as the city grows, that we’re building for the demands that will be placed on our communication system,” he said.

The city hopes to place the new city hall facing West Washington Street, with parking in the back where the current building sits. Officials envision it as a revitalization tool.

“It’s going to be very exciting,” Roberts said. “We think it will really benefit downtown.”