SYLACAUGA – Residents of the Marble City likely marveled at the contemporary new Sylacauga Municipal Complex when it was built in 1972, that edifice of beige brick and glass lined with toasty brown wooden paneling.
It replaced a building that was 35 years old at the time. The old City Hall, across Third Street from the Municipal Complex at the corner of Norton Avenue, was built in 1937.
Residents can marvel once again as the city puts the finishing touches on $2.2 million in repairs, improvements and renovations to the 42-year-old complex that’s home to the Mayor’s Office, Planning and Code Department, City Clerk, Municipal Court, Police Department and Fire Department.
“The building had some major issues with maintenance problems, so these renovations escalated from those maintenance issues,” said Mike Whetstone, project manager for the renovations.
Start with the offices where Police Chief Chris Carden and investigators are headquartered. Those offices are underground beneath the fire department’s truck bays. Rainwater seeps in, soaking paneling, drywall and carpet and causing mildew and other moisture-related problems over time, Whetstone said.
The area was intended for storage in the first place, and has never been equipped with restrooms or other plumbing. Air conditioning and heating were seemingly an afterthought.
A structural engineer estimated it would cost $500,000 to dig up around the building, seal the walls and push the soil back into place.
Meanwhile, the city’s old jail was on the same level across a driveway from those offices.
The city stopped using the jail about a decade ago, and Whetstone said the jail didn’t meet current standards for prisoner accommodations so it couldn’t be reused as a jail later.
“We’ve been heating and cooling it and basically using it for nothing,” he said. “It’s got plenty of plumbing because it used to be the jail.”
So the city removed the jail cells and built offices in the space. When police officials move into the new offices, their old offices will be ripped out and the area where they’ve worked for years will be stripped to the bare concrete walls. A French drain and pump will be installed to remove water that seeps in, and a meeting room will be added in the driest part of the area where police officers can be trained and community meetings can be held.
The remainder of the space will be used for storage, as originally intended, Whetstone said.
“We were able to disassemble the jail and still use the storage area for essentially $200,000 less” than digging out and waterproofing, he said.
Visitors to the Municipal Complex will notice a new look in the lobby area, as well, where glass walls on the south and east sides have been replaced.
“We had some structural steel issues in the basement. The steel in the basement was compromised,” Whetstone said. After replacing the structural steel, the 1970s glass couldn’t be reinstalled because it doesn’t meet modern standards for strength.
"We had to really beef up the structural steel in the windows," Whetstone said in reports published earlier. "With all the tornadoes and other weather events Alabama has had recently, the building codes have changed, and you have to have a lot more support in windows, otherwise a storm could blow them out, so these entrances are going to be a lot safer."
Replacing the curtain walls also offered an opportunity to improve handicapped access to the building’s street level.
Tile floor covering in the lobby was removed and the concrete floors were stained and polished for a fresh contemporary look.
In a separate project that was done at the same time, the Municipal Complex was among city buildings to benefit from energy efficiency upgrades to the tune of $1.2 million.
According to reports published at the start of the project, the City Council approved an energy efficiency upgrade project from Trane which guarantees more than $64,000 in savings over 20 years.
The scope of the work included installing HVAC controls in the Municipal Complex as well as three new air handlers, conversion to a variable air volume system, two high-efficiency boilers, two new hot water and chilled water pumps, new mechanical room piping and valves, rooftop package heat pumps for Fire Station No. 1 and a split heat pump system for the Police Annex. Other improvements are a chiller, boiler and pumps at the J. Craig Smith Community Center and upgraded lighting and programmable thermostats throughout designated city buildings. The energy savings are projected to pay for the cost of the new equipment over time.
Other renovation work has included asbestos encasing, roof repairs, and renovations in the Fire Department.
The Municipal Complex improvements are financed through a 15-year general obligation warrant at 2.8 percent interest, and the energy upgrades are a 15-year GO warrant at 3 percent interest.
Whetstone said citizen reaction to the renovations has been “fairly positive,” but that some people have questioned whether the building repairs were a more important priority than repairing roads or sidewalks that they can see as they pass through town.
“We’ve spent roughly $2.2 million to renovate a building that’s 40 years old and has a replacement value of $18 million,” Whetstone said. “We want to make it last another 40 years.”
He added, “A lot of the structural work is in places where the public can’t see it. But we’ve fixed what was holding up the building and fixed water issues. It just makes sense to spend a couple of million dollars now” and avoid problems from deferred maintenance later.
Contact Bill Kimber at email@example.com.