Officials working on the long-overdue renovation of Alexandria City Hall say that a plan years ago to rent out space to commercial properties — as part of an effort to help pay for the expensive repairs — is no longer being considered.
“[Renting space] is not currently being considered as one of the options,” said Kayla Anthony, project manager for program management firm Brailsford and Dunlavey Inc. “People [we surveyed] valued that private cafe retail space much less for City Hall.”
City Hall, originally built in 1873 after a fire burned down the original building, is starting to show its age. The building has not been renovated since 1982. Jeremy McPike, director of the Department of General Services, said extensive upgrades are needed.
“When we looked at mechanical units, we found that the boiler is close to 60 years old in the basement,” McPike said. “Mechanics scratch their head and call their boss, saying ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ Much of the equipment here is way beyond its life expectancy. We’ve done a good job of keeping interior elements alive but there are major mechanical systems that need to be overhauled.”
As the city looks toward renovations, which are estimated to cost up to $56 million, planners are discussing how to distribute the city workforce and utilize space in the building. Anthony broke city operations down into three categories:
- Seat of government with supporting departments: Mayor, City Council, City Manager, City Clerk, City Attorney, Communications, Office of Management and Budget
- Land use departments: Code administration, Housing, Planning and Zoning, Transportation and Environmental Services
- Other departments: Finance, Human Resources, Performance and Accountability, and Project Implementation
In determining where to place departments after the renovations, Anthony said the team putting together the renovation plans were also trying to determine how much community common space should be included. These are spaces, like meeting rooms, that can be used by a city department or scheduled for use by public entities for meetings and events. These spaces are heavily used and Anthony said they are often booked far in advance, with planners struggling to even find a time to book the Sister Cities meeting room to hold the meeting about how crowded meetings are.
“There is always a need for more community meeting space,” Anthony said. “Some departments we heard from need their own spaces, but others need to be able to schedule meetings here and there.”
There were three main options being considered for the renovations plan. The first would include the seat of government and land use operations but would redistribute the other departments into other government offices across Alexandria. This plan would give a medium amount of community commons space — slightly more than what is presently available.
The second option would keep nearly all of the city services in City Hall, though a few of the other departments would be relocated, but overall very little community commons space would be gained.
The final option keeps the seat of government operations and miscellaneous departments, but sends most of the land use departments out to a government office in a more central location, resulting in the largest gain of community commons space.
After two community meetings, the team working on the proposal said the City Hall proposal is scheduled to be presented to City Council sometime in October.