Renovation of Georgetown’s historic city hall is back on the table.
Mayor Burney Jenkins alerted council members during a special called meeting Wednesday he wants to continue talks about the 150-year-old building’s renovation.
“I think we need to discuss it,” Jenkins told the council.
The mayor’s decision comes after members of the council suggested tabling the city hall renovation and the construction of a fourth fire station until the 2023-24 budget is completed.
Concerns about the building’s deterioration has sparked the mayor’s request. Following the special meeting, city risk manager Rick Johnston gave several council members a tour of some problem areas within city hall. One area was an enclosed stairway in the back of city hall that was enclosed in 1993 during then mayor Warren Powers’ term. The interior of the walls have been stripped due to water leaking and a packet presented to council members showed standing water in that enclosure, extensive water damage and bird droppings in the attic and a snake that was found in the ladies second floor restroom.
City officials said mold had been located in some areas, and removed, but other walls where water has leaked remain in place. The ladies’ restroom on the main floor was locked due to water damage. The packet includes dangers that mold and bird droppings present to employees.
“Did you see the chips falling outside?” said council member Willow Hambrick, calling attention to an ongoing problem with pieces of limestone falling from the city hall exterior.
Former mayor Tom Prather made renovation of city hall a priority near the end of his term, hiring architects and a construction manager to oversee the project. Prather’s efforts were slowed by the lingering effects of the pandemic, problems at the construction of Georgetown Municipal Water and Sewer Services’ Waste Water Treatment Plant One and then a historic GMWSS rate increase.
Even so, bids were sought late in Prather’s term and opened in January. City Hall renovation plans have been in discussions for almost a decade with early projections at $6 million, then $9 million in 2015 and now, $11.9 million this year. The recent construction bids are high due to inflation, but also because city officials are seeking bids on various scenarios including improving access and renovation to the third floor, which is not in use currently, the architects have said.
The bids shared with Jenkins and this city council include three options, but also several alternative additions including the construction of a rear stair tower, slate roof, mezzanine and a rear patio. The bids range from $10.2 million to the $11.9 million, but architects told the council the bids could come down with some clarity on exactly what the council wants to have done.
The building is sound, architects said, but water damage is continuing and there is a fear of mold in the building. Some mold has been found and removed, said city officials.
Since the latest round of bids, there has been some discussion to tear down the existing city hall and replace it with a similar or exact replica of the current city hall, or build a brand new modern building.
An architect familiar with the project estimated rebuilding a similar or exact replica city hall might go as high as $18 million. Using RS Means software, which is used by architects and developers to estimate the cost of construction, a municipal building would currently cost about $500 per sq. ft. or about $9 million, based upon the building’s 18,000 sq. ft. footprint. That estimate does not include land, foundation work or demolition if it were placed in the city hall’s current location.