New city hall filling quickly

Published 10:07 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts, left, and Buildings and Capital Programs Director Gerry Jones show off the natural light in the atrium of the new city hall building on West Washington Street Wednesday.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts, left, and Buildings and Capital Programs Director Gerry Jones show off the natural light in the atrium of the new city hall building on West Washington Street Wednesday.

Four years and $24 million after the city first started talking publicly about the need for a new city hall building, the first employees have moved into and started working from their new spaces in a brand-new building.

Employees in offices that don’t interface much with the public — such as human resources, for instance — have already moved into the new building. It is adjacent to the old city hall building on Market Street but fronts on West Washington Street.

“They’re moving in waves,” Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said Wednesday while taking the News-Herald on a tour of the new building.

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The offices that interact the most with the public — like public works, public utilities, commissioner of the revenue and treasurer — likely will move over the weekend of Oct. 3-6, Roberts said, adding more detailed information will be released in the coming days to inform customers of where they should go.

In 2010, Roberts said, the city first began considering its options with regard to the old city hall.

“We knew we had major system failures in city hall,” Roberts said. Such issues as sinking floors, leaking pipes and a main public entrance that had to be closed because of structural concerns were paramount.

A consultant told the city it would cost at least $15 million to do major renovations on the old building that would extend its useful life. The work would require employees to temporarily move out of the building, Roberts added, and that solution didn’t deal with other issues.

The city’s 911 systems and equipment required an upgrade, and offices in rented spaces spread throughout the downtown area still would not be able to move to the main city hall building.

“That building has given us everything it owes us,” Roberts said of the old building.

So the decision was made to build a new city hall. Roberts said the city hopes the building, as well as a planned new library nearby, will spur private investment like the city saw on North Main Street after the construction of the Mills Godwin Courthouse.

At 105,000 square feet of finished space, about double the space in the current city hall, the building also supports more than double the number of employees — about 300 as opposed to 135.

A “one-stop shop” for folks looking for various types of permits is just inside the front door. Also downstairs are most of the offices that frequently interact with the public.

A public information desk is downstairs to direct visitors to the right places.

“We’re trying to improve the experience people have when they’re dealing with their local government,” Roberts said.

City Council chambers also is downstairs, near the back entrance that will become the main entrance after the old city hall is torn down and made into a parking lot — something that should happen within the next year.

The seating capacity in the new chambers is 150, about the same as the chambers in the current building. With plenty of space and large screens, the lobby is better equipped to handle the occasional overflow meeting, Roberts said.

The upstairs of the building includes several meeting spaces as well as administrative offices for public works. The finance department and the city manager’s office also have taken up residence on the second floor.

On the west side of the building — technically an entirely separate building, structurally speaking — emergency dispatchers have a fresh new working space to replace their current spot in the old city hall.

Their location is directly on top of the information technology department, so wires run straight through the floor to the city’s servers. This section of the building is constructed to higher standards to withstand more severe natural disasters, Roberts said.

Two backup generators outside are designed to kick on within 20 seconds of a power outage.

The new building was constructed by Armada Hoffler on a $24 million budget. An additional $15 million has been spent on technology, including upgraded 911 equipment and radios.