The much-anticipated new City Hall building is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Goodwyn Mills Cawood, the architectural firm overseeing the project, unveiled conceptual exterior renderings of the facility at Thursday night’s City Council meeting.
Paying homage to downtown’s historic structures, the civic building will incorporate lots of glass to allow natural light to flow in, as well as feature two entrances that make accessing City Hall easier and more convenient for staff and the public.
The exterior renderings are the result of public sessions held earlier this year to get input on what the new City Hall should look like. General Services Director Ricky Wilkinson said the meetings were well attended and provided valuable feedback that continues to heavily influence the building’s design.
“This has to be a building that the entire City is really proud of,” he said. “This building’s got to last for another 50-75 years so obviously we’ve got to get it right.”
New City Hall Details
The new City Hall, which will include a new parking deck, will be built on the site of the municipal parking garage at Gates Avenue and Fountain Circle. A one-stop shop for City services, the $60 to $70 million open-office building will combine departments and promote collaboration across teams.
This is important because nearly 150,000 square feet of office space is currently distributed outside City Hall. Departments such as GIS, ITS, Inspections, Engineering and more operate in separate “satellite” facilities, each with its own maintenance costs.
“If you’re a builder or a developer or a small business owner or anybody who has business at City Hall, you’ll probably be able to do that on one floor of the building as opposed to going to different places all around the City,” Jeff Slaton, architect with Goodwyn Mills Caywood, said in March.
While the exterior design of the building is nearly finalized, Wilkinson said the interior is still taking shape. He said the emergence of COVID-19 this year has allowed the City to “slow down” and adjust to whatever the future may look like.
That could include taller partitions between desks or mechanical filtration systems to remove particles that contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus from the air. Lots of ideas are still on the table.
“We are planning to stick with the open floor plan concept, but our workstations interior to the building will probably look a little different,” Wilkinson said. “COVID-19 has allowed us to take a breath and understand how it has affected the various building components and ways to keep our staff and the public safe.”
City Hall Timeline
With roughly 30 percent of the City Hall design phase complete, Wilkinson said they are continuing to finalize construction documents and hope to break ground in April or May of next year.
The construction itself is expected to last approximately 18 months, with a grand opening occurring sometime in late 2022 or early 2023. The City will release more information to the public as those details are available.
As it currently stands, City Hall does not meet seismic, ADA, building or fire standards. Structural integrity, code updates, facade issues, failure of major mechanical structures and lack of available space are all examples of the infeasibility and financial burden of renovating the current structure.
City officials have said moving all departments under one new roof will save money and be more energy-efficient and sustainable long-term.
The construction itself is expected to last approximately 18 months, with a grand opening occurring sometime in late 2022 or early 2023.
Thinking back on the public input meetings earlier this year – before COVID – Wilkinson is grateful the community had a chance to review and comment on iconic architecture at the local, regional and national levels.
After all, the intent is for the new City Hall to be inviting to the public.
“We were really just trying to get some opinions on things they liked about those particular buildings and things they didn’t,” Wilkinson said. “It was obviously not in an effort to replicate what’s already been done but just trying to understand what was important to the public with regard to the character of the new City Hall.”
First Look: The New Huntsville City Hall