Alderpersons offer input on new City Hall
By Gene Kemmeter
Stevens Point alderpersons got their opportunities to offer input about the new City Hall Thursday, April 5, at a special Common Council meeting.
Mike Hacker of Bray Architects, the architect alderpersons selected for the building, said he has been meeting with a committee of city employees to address concepts to develop a building to meet the city’s needs for years to come.
Mayor Mike Wiza said alderpersons voted in August 2017 to build a new City Hall in the downtown area and move out of the County-City Building. The Council subsequently decided to locate the City Hall at the northwest corner of Water Street and Arlington Place.
“There is efficiency in the city working together,” he said. “This is an opportunity for Council members to offer what they want in the City Hall.”
Michael Ostrowski, director of community development, said employees have been meeting with Bray about efficiencies, and they want to get the Council involved in the project.
Wiza told the alderpersons not to start with drawings, and instead start with what the departments want to function in the building.
Hacker provided a list of “Guiding Principals” the employees provided during the early stages of discussion, such as transparency, character, welcoming, engaging, warm, inclusive, nature, flexible, collaborative, quality, separate identity and community.
He said the comments collected Thursday will help to develop the project and how the project can improve on the public service experiences and department operational efficiencies within City Hall.
The city section of the County-City Building has about seven distinct windows confronting the public as to where they should go, Hacker said, and the intent is to reduce that number to two or three in order to better service the public.
A lot of city halls around the state were built about the same time as the County-City Building, and all offices were built separately, he said, but now they interact with significant interdepartmental collaboration, which means traveling from one distant office to another.
“We’re looking at interaction and service in maybe 20 years down the line,” he said.
City employees traveled to Oak Creek to look at a new city hall there, and Comptroller/Treasurer Corey Ladick said employees felt the one-window approach there wasn’t feasible. “We’re definitely not going with one window,” he said.
Wiza said alderpersons need to consider what is the purpose of a new city hall and what is the goal, to provide a new building or increase efficiency.
Hacker said site constraints due to the size of the lot mean the building will be several stories, but that can be worked into the design for efficiency.
Alderperson Cathy Dugan, District 8, said she wants the building to provide needed space and should be a little grand, something like P.J. Jacobs Junior High School which continues to display beauty more than 75 years after it was built.
Alderperson Mary Kneebone, District 7, said the building needs efficiency to service the public and she’d like to see a place where events can be held, drawing the public in.
Alderperson Mary McComb, District 9, said the building has to be friendly and grand. “We have to remind residents that we are working hard, but it does need to be friendly, it has to have dignity.”
Alderperson Shaun Morrow, District 11, said the County-City Building was built to be open but in today’s society that can’t be done. “That’s the reality of where we are now. Marathon County had an open courthouse and now had to change to only one entrance,” he said.
Alderperson Tori Jennings, District 1, said she was the only vote against the new City Hall and she still remains concerned about the site.
Alderpersons looked at 40 images of various buildings, and Hacker said he would like to design a building that looks timeless, incorporating natural materials of wood, stone and glass in simplicity with the landscape.
Hacker said site considerations show a private parking area abutting the property on the west that provides a view to the Wisconsin River and the building will be close to the sidewalk while the Green Circle Trail will tie in as a key asset to the building.
The city has a 44-stall parking lot to the east across Water Street, he said, and owns the adjacent lot to the north where parking spaces are available. He estimated the gross building area as 20,000-24,000 square feet so the main floor of the building would be about 14,500 square feet, with a partial second and third floors.
Alderperson David Shorr, District 2, said the discussion had been more about aesthetics than about growth and all alderpersons feel the community will continue to grow.
Wiza said the city may reduce the need for space in the future because of progress in unforeseen inventions, citing city permits being handled online in the future as an example of a reduction in needed space.
Hacker said today’s buildings are designed to be more flexible, thus builders are getting away from concrete walls such as those in the County-City Building which limit efforts to remodel in the future.
Jennings questioned the expense of building upward, but Hacker said there are cost efficiencies in going upward because they reduce roof size and provide other savings. “I’m confident the cost will be the same as a larger one-story building,” he said. “Multiple stories can be cost efficient.”
Ostrowski said the site has a parking area and the city owns the property to the north so it could expand the building in the future if necessary.
Wiza said the building will be an ongoing process in future months and alderpersons and the public can direct their comments about the building to him or Ostrowski.