In less than three years, the City of Huntsville will have a new home in the form of a new City Hall. At its Sept. 28 meeting, the Huntsville Planning Commission gave unanimous support to a site plan for the seven-floor structure and adjoining parking garage.
The building will replace the current Municipal Complex, which opened more than a half-century ago at 308 Fountain Circle. The new City Hall will be built directly across the street at the site of the current municipal parking garage, which will be demolished this year.
Why is it needed?
City Administrator John Hamilton said there are many reasons why a new City Hall is necessary, but the primary one is simple – a better and more efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Because of limited space, some departments operate out of leased buildings elsewhere.
The new facility will provide 175,000 square feet of administrative space to be occupied by about 370 employees. However, it will also accommodate future growth.
“It will be City Hall for 75 years or more,” Hamilton said.
The current building also has maintenance issues, which grow more costly each year. Hamilton praised the City’s maintenance crews for keeping it functional with “bubble gum and baling wire.”
Adjoining the new City Hall will be a seven-floor, 195,000-square-foot parking deck. There will be 568 spaces in the attached garage with some spaces designated for public use.
Architectural firm Goodwyn Mills Cawood is designing the new City Hall. Nearly every aspect has been planned with the public in mind, from convenient entrances to grouping similar departments together.
To that end, it was important for City leaders to receive feedback about the project from members of the community. Three public input sessions were held in early March 2020. The project has also been a topic of conversation at previous City Council and Planning Commission meetings, providing the public with ample opportunities to weigh in.
“Of all the things the City has built over the last few years, this has been presented and discussed more than any other,” Hamilton said. “It’s important the public has input into their City Hall.”
Grouping interrelated departments will make it easier for residents and business owners to renew licenses, pay taxes, get building permits or conduct any other City-related business. For example, the ground floor will be occupied by the Fire Marshal and Inspection departments, which are frequented by builders and contractors.
Similar groupings will be found on subsequent floors. Engineering and Planning will occupy the same floor, as will the Clerk Treasurer and Finance departments. The sixth floor will be occupied by City Council offices, but it will also include public meeting space. The Office of the Mayor, as well as Communications and the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, will be on the seventh floor.
The primary public entrance to the building near the intersection of Fountain Circle and Madison Street brings you onto the second floor, housing the HR Department and City Council chambers where most public meetings are conducted.
Mark Coyle, a project architect with Goodwyn Mills Cawood, said the exterior will be a precast veneer engineered to look like limestone but be less expensive and more durable over time. The overall look of the building will be influenced by adjacent architecture.
“We’re drawing a lot of aesthetic from the bank building across the street,” Coyle said.
When referencing the interior, Coyle said City Hall won’t be a “gold-plated building,” but instead contain a “fairly efficient finishes package.” Ornate touches will be limited to public spaces like a common area on the second floor, the meeting chambers and public meeting rooms on the sixth floor.
City Hall is meant to be a symbol of our community and plays a role in civic pride. It’s going to be functional, maintainable and efficient, but it’s also going to be a building our community can be proud of.”
“In those areas, we’ll be bringing in some of the exterior finishes,” Coyle said. “As you move up the rest of the building, the finishes package is much more utilitarian and easier to maintain.”
Most of the floors will be terrazzo, similar to what’s in the current City Hall. Carpet will be installed in spaces that require better acoustics.
Unlike traditional office buildings in which most employees have their own office, the new City Hall will have a more open concept to promote efficiency and collaboration.
“There will be a lot of modern technology that will make it far more efficient for them to perform their duties,” Hamilton said.
Construction on City Hall won’t begin until after the demolition of the municipal parking garage and debris removal, which should happen by late 2021. Hamilton anticipates a construction contract could come before City Council for approval in October.
Construction is expected to take about two years to complete with an anticipated total project budget of $85 million.
Coyle said the demolition of the garage would require closing one lane around the perimeter of the project. When construction begins, Fountain Circle will close to accommodate both workers and construction materials.
The building and garage will completely fill the block but include ample sidewalks and landscaping following the streetscape design standards used throughout downtown.
Hamilton said the chosen location was a perfect fit for the City of Huntsville.
“It keeps our City Hall at the heart of our City, on the central square and in proximity to other public and private institutions with whom we closely partner,” he said.
The site also offers valuable topographical features that play a role in the functionality of the building.
“City Hall is meant to be a symbol of our community and plays a role in civic pride,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to be functional, maintainable and efficient, but it’s also going to be a building our community can be proud of.”