Council Work Session Reviews Plans for a New City Hall
December 13, 2017
A thorough case for a more efficient, cost-saving new City Hall building was presented Tuesday night to the members of the Huntsville City Council in a work session open to the public.
The Council members were presented data on extending the life of the current eight-story Administration Building compared to the potential of a six-story City Hall that would be erected no sooner than the winter of 2021 on the site of the current parking garage between Fountain Circle and Madison Street.
The current Administration Building was built in 1963 and as Mayor Tommy Battle said, “We’ve outgrown it. It’s no longer efficient.”
The decision on a new building will be made by the Council, whose members have emphasized a desire for transparency and public input during the process.
Jeff Easter, the Director of General Services for the City of Huntsville, made the presentation. In a bottom-line bit of data, Easter offered estimated costs to the City through the fiscal year 2028:
- $48 million for a new City Hall building, with $40 million for construction, $3.5 million for general maintenance, $1.7 million in utilities and the remainder in miscellaneous costs.
- $54 million to remain in the current Administration Building, with an estimated $29 million to $32 million in needed renovations, the rest for higher maintenance and utility costs and the lease payments for property where current City Hall operations are taking place “off-campus.”
According to City Administrator John Hamilton, “The 1990 capital plan approved by Council includes the construction dollars to do this. It would be debt-funded, but it would be molded into the capital plan, and the capital plan is balanced.”
While the future of the property on which City Hall currently stands has been a topic of some discussion among the public, it was not part of Tuesday’s agenda.
However, responding to some citizen inquiries, Director of Engineering and Urban Development Shane Davis explained:
- A non-binding Letter of Intent has been signed with developers Triad and Crunkleton and Associates. City officials and the developers are in what Davis called “very complex” discussion about the property.
- Though the LOI will expire on Dec. 31, it does not mean the City Council will be required to make any decision on a future contract with a developer nor make a final decision on the property by that date.
- Davis has received no calls from other developers with interest in the property, which the City’s Downtown Master Plan has designated as a site for a large multi-use building.
The current Administration Building underwent a major renovation in 1986, with add-ons that stabilized the building. It has had a widely publicized problem with its marble exterior, including safety concerns for visitors and employees.
Easter offered numerous condition issues with the current building requiring attention:
- The structural integrity is failing, the façade is crumbling and separating from the building.
- Renovation would require meeting updated codes that would include more ADA access and the addition of another stairwell.
- Electrical service, elevators, HVAC and other mechanical systems “are at the end of their useful life,” Easter said. The elevators and HVAC system were actually installed first, then the building built around them, providing more extensive and expensive challenges for repair and replacement.
- It is considered 62 percent efficient in terms of workspace availability, compared to modern standards of 80 percent.
- Interior renovations alone, to provide more efficiency and meet standards, is estimated at $9 million.
- Replacing the façade is estimated at $10 million. The marble, much too thin for anyone to consider in a construction project these days, cannot be salvaged or re-used. Much of it is warped and cracked, according to Easter.
The potential site for new City Hall was chosen from among several options, according to Battle. He said considerations were an emphasis on remaining in downtown, adjacent to Big Spring Park and near courthouse square; there are also construction advantages to the site, including separate entrances on two levels because of the slope of the property, and a layer of bedrock that will cut construction costs.
The new building would be on the site of a parking lot that, independent of other decisions, will soon need to be replaced because of safety issues.
A new City Hall administration building would be designed with more efficient use of space, an eye on the future and with a goal of bringing together more departments under the same roof, according to Hamilton. Any plan would consider the need for more employees as the city grows – recognizing the potential for telecommuting – and planners might devote one floor to storage that could later be transformed into work space in the decades to come.
The estimate on a new building would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 130,000 square feet and with workspace for some 250-plus employees.
Currently, the Administration Building has work space for 122; there are more than 170 employees at “satellite” locations across town and in nearby downtown offices who would be brought under the new City Hall roof.
Though only preliminary schematics have been created, Hamilton is “envisioning a modern office building. There are a lot of strategies commercial industry has learned and demonstrated, and we have the opportunity to take advantage, to leverage modern design standards in a new City Hall.”