COLUMBIA — Hard hats won’t be needed much longer in the new city hall addition.
The five-floor, 72,000-square-foot expansion is set to open in January, and city officials say it will provide more than just new space.
“It’s a brand new, energy-efficient facility,” Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said. “It’s one of those catalytic projects that will make a lot of improvement to the look of downtown.”
The city intends to provide free, public Wi-Fi on the first floor and in the new outdoor public plaza, which will function as “a gathering place for the public,” St. Romaine said.
The $22 million project, which is on schedule and within budget, will be open in time to house the first City Council meeting of 2010.
“We expect to start moving people first quarter of the calendar year,” City Manager Bill Watkins said.
After the employees are moved into the new addition, floors two through five of the existing building will be gutted and renovated. The plan is to eventually have “one new seamless building,” St. Romaine said.
Nearly all city operations will run out of City Hall, improving communication and cutting back the cost of renting other locations for these operations, he said.
“It’ll put people in touch with each other, so the communication between departments will be better,” Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said.
The new addition will have upgrades in technology, be more energy-efficient and be more environmentally friendly, senior project architect Joe Frigerio said.
Project architect Diane Mansfield expects the addition to receive the silver level of LEED certification, which is determined by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED takes into account water and energy efficiency, reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and other environmental factors.
The building also used materials that will be replenished in nature within 10 years, and it re-used existing building materials.
The art used to decorate the building will be created by local artists, Watkins said.
“Our thought is to use only local artists in this building," he said. "This is a local building.”
The new council chambers will be more accessible as well, located on the first floor with more seating available. The council chambers are currently located on the fourth floor, which can create difficulty for people with disabilities.
The addition should also make finding different departments easier for Columbia residents.
“Anybody who needs to do business with the City of Columbia can pretty much come to one place downtown," St. Romaine said.