By Jean Cole
By the end of 2014, Athens may have a new city hall that will remind residents of the original Athens — the one in Greece.
Construction workers are about to build a $2.2 million, Greek Revival-style city hall where the old city hall once stood at the corner of Marion and Hobbs streets downtown.
Mayor Ronnie Marks says the new city hall will have details similar to the Limestone County Courthouse a block south. Site work for the new buildings began in December 2012.
“The engineering study is done; the demolition of old city hall is obviously done; and the fill dirt for the basement is in place,” Marks said. “As soon as we get a dry period, we will get the foundation laid.”
Once the foundation is set, the project will take about 20 to 24 months to complete, the mayor said.
Although officials initially planned to retain the old council chambers, they later determined that was unworkable. City employees are using offices at the Athens Utilities building on Wilkinson Street until the new city hall is built. The City Council borrowed $2.2 million in 2009 to build the new facility. They plan to use city workers, when available, and prison laborers on the project in order to afford a better building, Marks said.
So far, the city has spent about $100,000 for demolition and site work. The $2.2 million budget — with a 10 percent contingency — has not changed since the project was announced, Marks said.
Separate bids will be taken soon for various aspects of the work, including plumbing, electrical and construction, and the city will use existing employees to oversee construction, so there will be no need to hire a construction manager, according to the mayor.
Public Works Director James Rich and Sanitation Director Earl Glaze will supervise the build.
“We built the Police Department in 2005-2006, and had $50,000 worth of change orders, so we don’t have a critical need for it,”Marks said. “We have had an oversight person for fire stations, so we are very confident about our skill level.”
The designers of the new city hall tried to create a functional building that blended the grace of classical architecture and the fortitude to last 100 years.
Krebs Architecture and Engineering of Birmingham drew the plans, which call for a 15,793-square-foot, one-story, brick building. The city already has similar Grecian and American architectural styles nearby, including next-door neighbor First United Methodist Church and the Limestone County Courthouse a block south.
The building will have tall, paned windows and two separate cornices (attics) that create the illusion of two stories in the front and back of the building. The front of the building, which will face Hobbs Street, will have an entry portico with classical entablature supported by four columns with Ionic capitals and steps leading to it from three sides. In keeping with Greek Revival style, the main door will have an elaborate door surround. A wheelchair access ramp will be located immediately to the side of the entry.
The new city hall will house the offices of the mayor, technology, finance, human resources and the fire department administration, support staff, an event kitchen and break room, a conference room, City Council chambers, a council pre-meeting room and a council work room. The design also includes a storm-safe room and an additional office for the future. The building can be expanded, if needed.
Another of the plan’s features is its interior courtyard — about the size of the municipal courtroom at the Athens Police Department — were there will be brick pavers, container plants and tables. Employees and members of the public will be able to eat lunch or rest there. The courtyard is designed to be functional in that it allows access to the council chambers through the courtyard and it also allows some offices to have windows they would not otherwise have.
One feature of the council chambers is that the public will be able to access the space at night for meetings while the rest of the city hall offices are closed.