Beauty in eyes of beholders at new city hall

"You are going to love the new city hall building.Or you're going to hate it.Of course, your reaction will probably depend on whether or not you thought it should have been built in the first place.Proponents should be impressed by the new one-stop shopping approach to permit applications and fee payment. Detractors may see in its cavernous foyer, abundance of gleaming timber and top-of-the-line office furniture, a Taj Mahal to a local government gone wild and profligate.It all depends, it seems, on where one stands."

  • Wednesday, February 16, 2000 11:00am
  • News

“You are going to love the new city hall building.Or you’re going to hate it.Of course, your reaction will probably depend on whether or not you thought it should have been built in the first place.Proponents should be impressed by the new one-stop shopping approach to permit applications and fee payment. Detractors may see in its cavernous foyer, abundance of gleaming timber and top-of-the-line office furniture, a Taj Mahal to a local government gone wild and profligate.It all depends, it seems, on where one stands.Isn’t it a knockout? said Sandspit resident Bob Campbell, who stopped in to see the building while in town Tuesday morning. I like all the wood and beams.Others were less sanguine about the results, at least where the artistic flourishes were concerned.The floor is horrible, said one woman, an eight-year island resident who declined to give her name. I hate the sculptures outside. They look like bird droppings.While she conceded that the city probably needed a new building, she remained surprised that it didn’t really seem like it was approved by anyone.The building, with an estimated price tag of about $9 million including land, was approved by the city council in 1997. City officials have maintained that the cost will pencil out in the taxpayers’ favor over a 20-year period, compared to the costs in rent and inefficiency from having departments spread out amongst several buildings around the island.Said Mayor Dwight Sutton: The person who thinks it’s too nice is certainly entitled to that opinion. It’s good quality. It’s not a wasteful enterprise.The 24,107-square-foot building, at 280 Madison Avenue, boasts public entrances on its west and south sides, and a main parking area shared with the Bainbridge Performing Arts Playhouse.The central feature is its long, open concourse, lined by the planning department counter one side and the public works counter on the other. The finance and executive departments are upstairs, with the mayor’s office looking south down Madison Avenue toward Eagle Harbor.Thanks to a row of interior windows on the second story, a building-length skylight along the central corridor brings a flood of natural light into both floors.The touch was intended to blur the distinction between the indoors and outdoors, said Rob Hutchison of Miller/Hull Partnership, architects.The building has earned praise from the Seattle Times architecture critic, who recently proclaimed the building as display(ing) a respect for public servants and the public they serve. The building also earned plaudits for the abundance of certified sustainable forest products and use of recycled materials.Just inside the main entrance on the south side, a central desk consolidates payment of pretty much every city permit fee or utility bill. The few exceptions include animal licenses and monthly parking permits, which must be paid for at the Bainbridge Police Department in the old city hall building.And for city employees, the great diaspora is over. Sixty-five of them, plus the mayor, now work under the single roof. The merging of departments has tied all of the offices together by computer, ending an old practice of inputting fee payments and receipts twice, pay clerk Gretchen Bohannon said.It has also introduced her to a number of co-workers, long on the city payroll but exiled to rented space on Hildebrand Lane.That’s what happens when you move in together – you find out who works for the city, Bohannon said. There’s so many faces I don’t know. It’s sad.Department hours – which used to vary wildly, and were frequently interrupted by staff training sessions – have been set at a uniform 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Staff members will work from 8 to 5, with the last hour of the day devoted to meetings or catching up on work.There will be full service from all departments at all times, said Lita Myers, administrative assistant in the executive department.A few of the informal routines of the city hall culture have been adjusted as well. The few smokers on the staff have been banished to the back porch, under strict orders to not congregate in any of the public spaces around the front of the building.We do want this to have the appearance of a city building, and a no-smoking building, Myers said.Rain kept away just about anyone who might have been interested in Monday’s flag noon flag-raising ceremony. About two dozen employees huddled outside the front entrance, while a crowd of citizens estimated at two looked on.City Councilwoman Christine Nasser, who will serve on the first council to enjoy the yet-to-be-completed meeting chambers, praised the building as the Cub Scout color guard munched on cookies.It’ll always have its detractors, Nasser said. But it’s beautiful and functional.And, she said, looking outside, it’s warm and dry.”

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