Saturday, November 10, 2018

Oshkosh City Hall renovation may include first-floor addition, $10 million to $20 million pricetag

City Hall's origin as a high school means there is an inefficient use of space, consultants say.
By Miles Maguire

A possible $10 million to $20 million renovation of City Hall as well as a proposal to build a new Parks & Forestry Building for $6.4 million will come before the Common Council early next year.

The City Hall renovation would entail putting the council’s meeting space on the ground floor in a one-story addition, said City Manager Mark Rohloff.

The main municipal office building, which looks out over Algoma Boulevard, opened in 1916 as Oshkosh High School. The high cost of renovation is related to its original design and to the fact that the structure has been grandfathered under the American with Disabilities Act and does not meet current building requirements.

“This building is inefficiently used,” Rohloff said. Because it was built to accommodate large numbers of students moving periodically from class to class, it has very wide hallways and stairwells, which go unused for much of the workday.

The problem is that converting those underused areas into office space would trigger a need to modernize the rest of the structure so that it meets ADA and building code requirements.

Last year Boldt Co., the Appleton construction firm, completed an evaluation that found City Hall to be “structurally sound … and well maintained.” But Boldt also noted some issues, including the ADA problem.

“If a significant alteration is made to the facility, federal regulations would require areas of noncompliance to be brought up to current day standards, unless structurally or technically unfeasible,” Boldt said.

The other major knock against the building is that its shell, including windows and walls, are not up to current energy standards.  

The city has other options, like moving some staff to the Public Safety Building. But retrofitting any vacated space in City Hall would also trigger the ADA and code requirements, thereby limiting any cost savings, Rohloff said.

This year the city commissioned a space needs assessment to determine whether City Hall is adequate now and into the future.  “Our building needs are not so drastic if we redo it,” Rohloff said.

“We’re not projecting a great deal of growth in our office needs,” the city manager said. “The biggest need that was pointed out was meeting space.”

When the council was told last month that the space needs assessment was essentially complete, the members decided it was too big an issue to take on right away.

“The magnitude of the City Hall project is going to be so sizable, and the cost has such a high price tag” that the council should wait until next year to review the alternatives, said Mayor Steve Cummings during a meeting last month.

Deputy Mayor Lori Palmeri said she has not seen the City Hall report but had heard about the idea of adding 7,500 square feet of office space by making better use of the stairwells.

At some point the cost of renovation could become so great that erecting a new building would make sense, but Palmeri said she hasn’t “heard specific numbers” as yet.

Major changes to City Hall “are not going to happen anytime soon,” she said. One of the first steps would be to add the project to the city’s Capital Improvement Program, a rolling five-year plan that covers construction projects on public property.

The council will also be asked to consider putting a new parks building into the plan.

Some money, about $250,000, has been earmarked for buying adjacent land to allow for expansion of the parks headquarters. The building, at 805 Witzel Ave., was rated by Boldt as being in “fair” condition with exterior doors that are deteriorating at the bottom and a heating/cooling system that needs to be replaced.

Boldt analyzed but rejected the idea of incorporating parks staff and equipment into the nearby Public Works Department central garage. The consultants said the garage has some unused space but not enough.

Another option is to tear the existing building down to its frame and then rebuild it and put on an addition. This would cost about $1 million less than building new but would not provide the same degree of efficiency and functionality, the consultants said.

The more expensive, build-new option would be more energy-efficient and more attractive, the consultants said. This alternative would also accommodate larger vehicles that the city is planning to buy, they said.

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