City building may see structural changes

By Jessi Haish

With the police department’s departure from the municipal building as it moves into a new station, the facility will be left with no security for the first time since its construction in 1967.

Possible adjustments of staff and renovations to the building were discussed at City Council’s committee of the whole meeting Monday. Public Works Director T.J. Moore said Dewberry Architects created a preliminary plan to present to the council. Dewberry was also involved with the police station project.

Some aldermen were hesitant about the project talk.

“I’ve heard thousands of hours of debate over this,” said sixth ward alderman Dave Baker. “I’ve heard multiple plans over the years.”

The relocation of the council chambers is being considered because the police department is moving out of the building.

“We’ve had rowdiness at court day and had to have officers come in and handle disruptive people,” Moore said.

Moore said although there will continue to be officers during court, there have been other issues on the second floor that required police help.

Moore said the building would have to become a “9 to 5 building” as the police presence would no longer be available 24/7. This would also mean the municipal building could no longer be a heating and cooling shelter or tornado shelter beyond those new open hours.

Moore spent the meeting talking about priorities for the project if it were to be approved. Moore’s first priority is the mechanical system, including the heating and cooling of the building, which had multiple breakdowns over the summer.

“In the last six to eight months, we’ve had to spend about $20,000 keeping the system working,” Moore said.

Moore said the unit should be gone by 2020 before it gets more expensive.

“It’s inconsistent, uncomfortable and loud,” Moore said, talking about the loud noises the HVAC unit makes while it runs.

Fourth ward alderman Bob Snow said the first priority should be to secure the building mechanically “so it can be used for many more years.”

Another priority for Moore is making the municipal building more accessible by widening bathroom entrances, installing “graspable” handles and making areas accessible to those in wheelchairs.

“Right now we could not accommodate a disabled elected official that needed the use of a ramp,” Moore said, pointing toward the City Council dais.

Moore said when the building was designed, it was “a much different time under much different circumstances.”

“Things like accessibility weren’t taken into great consideration when the building was designed,” Moore said. “Since then, it’s changed and now it’s law.”

Although the project is simply a proposal, the idea of funding has caused debate.

Fifth ward alderman Ron Naylor said he supports staying in the building and remodeling.

“We need to focus more on how we can fund something that needs to be done,” Naylor said.

It was also suggested once the police department moves out of the municipal building to bring in the staff from the annex building across the street. Moore said 90 percent of business with the city could be done on one floor.

“The original plan had been in our TIF forecast that we would have about $4.5 million of funding available for the TIF renovation of this building,” Moore said. “With the reduction of the [entity-attribute-value model], everything … had been rebalanced and we have right now, set aside about $3.3 million. Now that’s not to say we have to spend that whole amount or any of that amount necessarily, but that is what has been earmarked, so to speak, for now.”