City plans $2 million renovation of City Hall
Duluth's City Hall is poised to receive an overhaul. The city aims to begin remodeling the first floor of the building this winter, and will open bids for the work by mid-October. All told, the city plans to invest nearly $2 million in the 89-yea...
Duluth’s City Hall is poised to receive an overhaul.
The city aims to begin remodeling the first floor of the building this winter, and will open bids for the work by mid-October.
All told, the city plans to invest nearly $2 million in the 89-year-old structure, according to Erik Birkeland, Duluth’s property and facilities manager. He said the city will pay for the project using unspent bond money it initially obtained to build a joint law enforcement center it now shares with St. Louis County on Arlington Avenue.
The new law enforcement center came in under the $17 million the city had budgeted for the project, and the city has earmarked its savings windfall to revamp City Hall.
Birkeland said the relocation of police operations a couple of years ago “left a gaping hole in City Hall” and that space will be reclaimed and returned to productive use.
The renovation of the building probably would have begun sooner, but Birkeland said work associated with the 2012 flood pushed the project temporarily off track.
He expects work on the first floor to begin in November, and each of the remaining three floors of the building will be tackled in a separate phase, probably lasting three to four months apiece. Birkeland predicts work on the building will be completed by 2016.
When finished, the finance department will move into first-floor space formerly occupied by the police department, and the information technology department will slide into the other side of the first floor.
Birkeland explained the changes in store at City Hall are designed “to make it more efficient, more workable and safer,” with an eye toward improved customer service, as well.
The project will include what he called “passive security” features such as a prominent customer service desk on the first floor.
“We don’t want people to feel like they’re being locked out of City Hall, but we want to keep work spaces separate from public spaces,” Birkeland said.
Some of the most significant changes in layout for improved security probably will occur in the city attorney’s office on the fourth floor of city hall.
“We want the lobby to still feel like a welcoming area, but it will be infinitely safer,” Birkeland said.
He explained that with the current layout, the only way out of the city attorney’s offices is back through the lobby area. The new design should allow for an alternate back-door escape route that could be used in the event of a violent intrusion.
“We’re becoming more and more aware of how volatile people’s behavior can be and how vulnerable staff in city hall can be,” said Duluth City Architect Tari Rayala.
Rayala said steps also will be taken to make City Hall more accessible to people with disabilities. She noted that plans call for automatic doors to be installed for the skywalk across Fourth Avenue West. Rayala observed that the existing manual doors with an inclined approach have proven an impediment to wheelchairs.
Birkeland said a consultant has been hired to help the city reconfigure work stations, reusing as much old furniture as possible. He said the city also will see if it can procure some compatible surplus furniture from St. Louis County.
“We’re employing a lot of strategies to try to keep our costs down. It’s a challenge, but we’re going to do our best,” he said.
Energy-efficient lighting and a new back-up generator also are included in the project. Birkeland said the lighting will be compatible with control systems that could be installed in the future to automatically dim or turn off lighting when it’s unneeded.
While Duluth doesn’t have a large enough budget to air-condition City Hall at this time, Birkeland said the renovations are being made in such a way that mechanical systems and ductwork could readily be accommodated in the future.
Drawings for the first floor renovations include an area earmarked for a future fitness area, too.
“That’s something we would like to have, but there are no plans for it right now,” Birkeland said.