By Lucy Berry DeButy
As a downtown Huntsville business owner, Ginger Fees has a vested interest in the new City Hall.
She hopes the facility will be sleek and modern, with a facade that invites natural light and complements other buildings in downtown.
Fees, who runs Cochran Firm Huntsville on Madison Street with her husband, Doug, voiced her opinion last week during a City Hall input session in Council Chambers. A front-row spectator to the transformation of downtown Huntsville, Fees is eager to see how the new City Hall fits in with the rest of the city center.
“This building we’re in is so 60s,” she said. “We’re so over it. I do think this is a great move. There’s a lot going on right now in downtown.”
Public input sessions
The City held three sessions to gather public feedback on the exterior design of the new City Hall, which will be built across the street from its current location on the site of the municipal parking garage at Gates Avenue and Fountain Circle.
At present, nearly 150,000 square feet of office space is distributed outside City Hall. Departments such as GIS, ITS, Inspections, Engineering and more operate in separate “satellite” facilities, each with its own maintenance costs.
The new facility will be a one-stop shop for City services, combining departments and encouraging collaboration across teams. It will also make visiting City Hall easier and more convenient for the public.
“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,” said Jeff Slaton, architect with Goodwyn Mills Caywood.
During the input meetings, residents looked at pictures of other notable facilities in and around Huntsville, as well as civic buildings across the U.S. They then provided feedback about the different architectural styles and what they would like to see in downtown Huntsville.
General Services Director Ricky Wilkinson said the response from each session will help inform the City Hall design process, which will last most of this year.
“We’re not looking to replicate a building that exists,” he said. “This is going to be unique to Huntsville. It’s really important to make sure we’re able to identify things that are important to the community and to the folks that this building will belong to.”
City Administrator John Hamilton anticipates the new City Hall will cost $60 million to $70 million and include an adjacent parking garage. They hope to start bidding construction of the project in early 2021.
Hamilton said he expects at least 18 months of construction and a grand opening sometime in 2022.
“We’re not going to rush to failure – we’ll make sure we get it right,” he said. “But the reality is this is a multi-year process to design a building of this kind of scale and get it constructed and ready for business.”
Andrea Nicolau, a Brazil native who works as a NASA research associate in Huntsville, attended the input session Thursday night. As a member of the local Sunrise Movement, a climate change advocacy group, she hopes sustainability is a top priority at the new City Hall.
By selecting greener alternatives during design and buildout, Nicolau believes the City can help preserve the environment.
“I think it’s time to start to incorporate sustainability into the City,” she said. “Climate change is happening – that’s a fact. I think it’s important because of that.”
Because the existing City Hall does not meet current building standards, including energy efficiencies and workplace requirements, it is not financially feasible to renovate the decades-old structure. Renovations to the current building, which offers less than half of the space needed, would cost between $32.5 million and $35.8 million and still would not meet the bulk of City requirements.
Moving all departments under one roof will make the new City Hall more energy-efficient and sustainable long-term.
“Ultimately, as we look at how you maintain that building, how you heat and cool that building, those kinds of things,” Hamilton said. ” … in the long run it saves us a lot of money to go into a modern building with modern building standards.”