city hall plan

Forsyth city council has approved a tentative design for its new city hall despite concern it may be too modern. Clark Nexsen, the architect hired to design the new city hall, on Monday showed council designs for the first time since the city bought the old Colonial store to demolish and use the site for city hall. The project team brought its ideas for changing the building plans council approved for a nearby site to fit the new location. 

Mayor Eric Wilson said that all the glass on the design made him wonder if the building might have too modern an appearance compared with the courthouse and the board of education buildings and whether it might raise heating and cooling costs. 

“Regarding aesthetics, we want the building to fit in for the future, not just for adding on but also to fit in,” said Wade Williams. He said the building faces north and there is an overhang; so there is no direct sunlight and little solar gain to affect heating or cooling.

“You’ve relocated to a better site,” said Williams, mechanical department head at Clark Nexsen and project manager for Forsyth city hall. He said that having city hall closer to downtown and having a view of the courthouse and the square from city hall ties it to the heart of the city and makes the new location preferable to the previous one, which was closer to the city’s police and fire departments.

The new city hall will now be between East Chambers, South Kimbell, South Harris and East Main Streets. The discussion with council on April 1 included where the public entrances should be. Williams said they want to design city hall as a welcoming front door to the city and “a building for everyone.” He said other priorities for the team on the project are to spend the city’s money wisely, to create a safe and secure building and to design it so that it can be expanded as needed. 

Architect Aaron Brumo said the project has been in the planning stage for 1 1/2 to 2 years, and the team wants to keep momentum going. The plan will continue to be two floors, but there is no longer a need for the tower feature that council approved. The tower would block the view and the entrance. 

There is now a good space for 29 parking spaces between city hall and the police and fire departments. There will be four parallel parking spaces in front and possibly some street parking on the sides. There should be the feel of a city government complex that flows from city hall to the public safety and other city buildings in the adjacent blocks. There will be a clear pedestrian walkway from the parking lot to city buildings.

Council needs to decide where it wants to put the drive-through for utility customers to pay bills, where it wants to put the stairway from the first to the second floor and where it wants to seat the receptionist for the building. One option to council has entrances on the east and west ends of the building and an open stair tucked behind the receptionist. Upstairs is a waiting room, mayor’s office, city manager’s office and a conference room with a view of the square. Council meeting room, city utilities and other offices are downstairs. 

“We are trying to keep the building fitting with the architecture of the city,” said Brumo. “Red brick mimics the courthouse. Residences near the city have big front porches and tall columns. We want it open so you can see what’s going on.”

He presented council another option that has only one main entrance. Doors from council chambers are for emergency exit only. The receptionist is seated at a corner for visibility of people coming from either direction. The bill payment area is rearranged. The entrance at the back of the building is for staff only, to be entered with something like a key card. 

“It really wants to be a civic building and have that civic presence that no other buildings in town do,” said Jencks.

He said the front porch look, which includes rocking chairs in front of the building, is important in both options. He told council in option B to think of city hall as a bank where the public only needs access to certain portions of the building. Option B has visibility all the way through the building, giving a connection to the public safety complex on the other side. 

Wilson asked if the square footage and cost had changed. Williams said they are about the same but that costs have risen since the planning began. He said the cost for public space is about $400 per square-foot and non-public space $200 per square-foot for an average of $300 for the building. 

Council members voted to accept option B.

Asked by council member Melvin Lawrence about the timeline for completing the building, architects said it will take 3-4 months to complete construction documents, 30 days to advertise for bids and then about one year for construction. Council member Julius Stroud asked if that would obstruct traffic for a year. The answer was that there is room for staging near the construction site that should help in not causing congestion. 

City manager Janice Hall asked how many rooms there will be for storage. She said the city never has enough room for storage and suggested the city re-do the house near the building it is going to demolish for city hall and use it exclusively for climate-controlled storage. 

Wilson said the plans need some fine tuning. He said Hall will work with the architects.

“It fits the picture, but I don’t think it fits the property,” said Stroud.

“We want to get something the community is going to be proud of for a long time, but everyone has different tastes,” said Wilson. He said he hopes to be celebrating the opening of the new city hall on its front porch plaza on Jan. 1, 2021.