The New City Halls: Finally, Everyone Under One Roof
Dec 30, 2015 03:55PM
● By Jason Huddle
In 2013, both Concord and Kannapolis initiated the design and construction process of new city hall buildings. As we enter 2016, those facilities have become a reality.
Concord City Hall
In Concord’s case, the idea of a new City Hall was actually part of a master plan when the parking deck was built on Cabarrus Avenue, then the Police Headquarters across the street. The parcel of land it was built on was purchased by the City in 1999 and has always been earmarked for its construction.
However, the closing of the Philip Morris plant, as well as the recession, delayed the plan for the final piece of the puzzle – the City Hall building. Meanwhile, City departments were crowded and scattered.
“When the City moved into its ‘new’ Municipal Building – renovated former Citizens National Bank – at 26 Union Street South in 1986, the original plan was to move all downtown administrative offices there from the ‘historical’ City Hall site at 66 Union Street South,” Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt says. “Almost immediately, additional space for staff was needed, so some functions were relocated back to the City Hall Annex, which continued to house our Human Resources and Planning offices until moving into City Hall. By the mid- to late-1990s, the 1970s police station on Market Street – the first separate building constructed for Police – was becoming crowded and the City was leasing additional downtown space to accommodate staff.”
Once the new Police Headquarters was completed, the old police space at 30 Market Street temporarily relieved pressure on the two Union Street buildings. “There was little-to-no unused space in the old downtown buildings,” Hiatt adds. “We even had to house some coworkers in Fire Station 3 on Warren Coleman Boulevard.
“In 2010, a space needs study was conducted to determine the appropriate size of a new City Hall based on current and future operations, as well as analyzing and recommending conceptual function layouts and adjacencies. Upon receipt of the study, City Council adopted a goal to fund the design of a new building in fiscal year 2013-‘14. With an aggressive project schedule in order to be substantially complete in December 2015, site work began in July 2014. We are pleased that the project was completed on time.”
The 76,176-square-foot facility – with a price tag of about $20 million – saw its first City Council meeting last month. On February 7, at 2:00pm, a dedication and open house will take place; the public is welcomed.
With a compact building site that meant the new facility had to go vertical, City Hall has a brick and concrete exterior, and an entry tower that resembles the Union Street City Hall building that was torn down in 1957.
Hiatt says, “The building’s façade and architectural tribute to the 1902 City Hall will be noticed by those approaching the building or even passing by. Once inside, the focus was to create spaces that are much more user-friendly than in our current facilities. The open, two-story lobby has attractive finishes, while not being over-the-top. Visitors will feel comfortable and welcomed, but it does not go so far as to feel elaborate, cavernous or unapproachable. This is the people’s building and the design was very intentional in conveying that feeling.
“Some of the biggest improvements come in the public spaces and amenities that simply do not exist in the former facilities,” he continues. “For example, the former Council Chambers has seating for 63 in the audience and a maximum occupancy of 90. The new Council Chambers currently has seating for 130 and maximum room occupancy of 219.
“When customers entered the Municipal Building to pay taxes, receive assistance with their utility account or meet with City officials, they did not have much room to wait or navigate without feeling crowded by multiple lines of people converging, and privacy has always been a concern. The former entry had a cattle chute feel. The old buildings also presented major accessibility, efficiency, safety and maintenance challenges that are eliminated in City Hall. The (new) building was designed with room to grow programmed throughout, as needed or projected in each department. The extra room is subtle, rather than large expanses of empty space.”
About 113 City staffers are moving into their new offices this month, folks that undoubtedly will not miss their old space. Plans for those dwellings could include selling the two Union Street buildings and tearing down the old Police Headquarters building on Market Street. The thought there is to eventually build a green space/plaza.
“To be able to do that we have to move the signal shop and Traffic Management Center currently located in the basement to a new facility, possibly on the Brown Operations Center property,” Hiatt adds.
“The ability to have hundreds of coworkers under the same roof is a fantastic improvement. There are times that many coworkers do not see each other for weeks, and now we can truly be a single team serving the community in one building…customers will no longer have to go from one building to another. We will all have to get used to being able to do so much in one building, rather than having to go to several facilities Downtown or elsewhere in the city to accommodate public events, meetings, etc. It may take us a while to realize all the efficiencies we’ll gain in the average workday.”
Kannapolis City Hall and Police Headquarters
More than two years ago, Kannapolis City Council set in motion what is today the completed Kannapolis City Hall and Police Headquarters – on time and under budget.
Last month, a dedication ceremony was held that saw former mayors, area business leaders and hundreds of residents enter the new building to the lilt of Scottish bagpipes, tour the facility, then observe the swearing-in of council members in the new chambers.
The 106,000-square-foot classic Georgian-style structure is, happily, more than Kannapolis had originally envisioned or predicted they could afford. But David H. Murdock’s donation of 6.6 acres of land on the NC Research Campus (NCRC) saved the City more than $1 million in grading costs alone. And City Council approved a construction budget of $27.3 million.
“The space needs study was completed prior to the donation of the land,” Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg says. “We would have built a similar sized building elsewhere. (The site of the old post office building off Loop Road was considered.) However, the Laureate Center might not have been built in another location, so the building might have been smaller. We may have also built two buildings in a campus environment – one for Police and one for City Hall – if we did not locate on the donated land. We needed to build them together, under one roof, on the NCRC to maintain the proper scale with all the other buildings on the campus. That would not have been as important elsewhere.”
Up until now, the City’s governmental departments had been housed separately, in leased buildings across the city. They’ve been retrofit over the years, but admittedly don’t function well for the types of work being done and the equipment needed.
“People don’t realize that even though the city has been here a long time, it was built around the mills. We weren’t incorporated as a city until the 1980s,” Kannapolis Director of Communications Annette Keller says. “So we’re actually a very young government. The first priority was taking over utilities…water and sewer. You build up your staff and your services…priority was given to getting a Public Works facility, Parks and Recreation, Village Park. Fire Administration was housed in fire stations and our police force in leased quarters. We’ve known since we were founded that we were going to need a building.”
“The first time the issue of a new City Hall and Police Headquarters came up was as part of a City Council set of goals in 1990, although it was probably informally discussed ever since incorporation in 1984,” Legg adds. “It also gained additional traction in 1998 as part of the long-range visioning project, Weaving a Shared Future.
“A number of things kept it from becoming a reality until now: different elected leadership; two major droughts that diverted significant attention from other potential priorities; other needs: establishing a full-time professional Fire Department, building new fire stations, building a Public Works operation center, renovating our water treatment plant, building parks, etc.; the collapse of Pillowtex and the following development of the NCRC; the economy in the late 2000s. Finally, the City’s financial condition is far better now than it was 25 years ago – really even 10 years ago – which has made this project possible.”
About 160 City employees will relocate into the new facility over the next 60 days, being fully operational by March 1; it’s a welcomed move.
“The Police Department is working in an old funeral home and it’s very crowded. It’s been retrofit, but it was never meant to house police,” Keller explains. “Fire Administration is in a room meant for four or five people; 10 are moving. Telecommunicators are in a windowless room. They answer thousands of calls every year and they’ll now be in a space with windows.”
She shares a scenario: “We’re taking seven families from seven different houses and moving into one big house together. All technology must be in place, and moving 911, in most cases, is a huge undertaking. It has to be seamless.”
With upgraded technology, the building’s 5,500-square-foot Laureate Center is available for business
meetings and community functions. Accommodating 260 people for events like banquets and 450 people for meetings, the center can be subdivided into three separate spaces.
“The goal is, we’d like the Laureate Center to be part of the downtown revitalization plan, bring people into the downtown core for conventions, continuing education, receptions,” Keller says. “People will be able to reserve a space online; we hope to have that up mid-January. They can look at all the spaces: the Laureate Center, the old Cabarrus Bank Building, Rotary Hall, the Train Station, Village Park has a multi-purpose room.”
In the meantime, appreciation for the new city hall is growing, and that appreciation starts on the outside. “The exterior of the building is spectacular, it has a great presence. It’s classic Georgian-style with a front portico and a copper dome,” Keller says. “Once you come inside the foyer, the gallery space is what you immediately notice. Public art will go in that space in the future. There are two very nice terraces that can be rented for events. Upstairs, people really enjoyed the mezzanine that looks down into the gallery space and a conference room that has a veranda. It was standing room only at the dedication.”
Viewed as a morale booster and an environment where employees can be more productive, Keller says, “The police chief (at the dedication) made a very good point. We’re bringing all these departments together. They’ve been scattered, you had to stop what you were doing and drive to all these locations around the city. Now we will work more efficiently and effectively because all we have to do is run up and down the stairs. The building has a couple areas that we’re calling collaborative space. We can talk about ideas and flesh out problems and issues. When you’ve been in an old, outdated building, this does give you a sense of pride. It’s an embracing space.”
Written By: Kimberly Cassell
Photos By: Michael A. Anderson Photography