What to do with City Hall

MARSHALL – It’s had a long and varied history. But these days, talk about Marshall’s municipal building focuses more on its uncertain future.

The question of how to address problems like leaks, ailing boilers and concrete damage in the municipal building has been hanging over city officials for some time. It’s set to become an active topic of discussion, starting with a Marshall City Council work session next week, and the formation of a task force to discuss facility issues.

“We want to make sure we have a comprehensive plan for City Hall, whether it’s the current building, or doing something else,” said Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes.

The Marshall municipal building was constructed in 1964 on Main Street, and has seen a wide variety of uses in its 50-year history. While it has always contained offices for the city clerk, administrator and engineer, the building was originally home to the Marshall Fire Department, Police Department, and jail as well. The basement level served as a civil defense shelter. The round City Council chamber on the second floor doubled as the city courtroom, said retired Marshall City Administrator Duane Aden.

The original plans for the municipal building also included features like bunks and a fire pole for members of the fire department, a shooting range on the basement level and office space available for rent. Aden said Southwest State University staff used those offices for a time, before he began working for the city in 1968.

Aside from the city financial offices, almost nothing in the municipal building has stayed in the same place over the years.

“It kept on changing,” Aden said, as Marshall grew and city staff found new uses for the space. “When I came, in 1968, we didn’t have parks and recreation or a community education department. We just had a couple of park maintenance workers.”

On the second floor of the building, where Marshall Community Services offices are located now, “There was the city engineer and administrator, and that was about it,” Aden said.

Aden said the city court moved out of the building in the mid-1970s. The fire department followed in 1978, after a new fire hall was built. The police department moved out when the joint city-county Law Enforcement Center was built on West Main Street. City council meetings moved to the Marshall Middle School building three years ago, to better accommodate audience members and recording of meetings.

The city administrator’s office is now located where the jail and police dispatch center used to be, said Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig. A heavy metal door, and a set of bars inside a storage closet are all that’s left of the cells.

What has lingered, however, are problems related to the building’s aging facilities.

“Right now we have a portion of the building that cannot be used because of safety reasons,” Byrnes said. “We have HVAC issues, we have windows that leak, window frames that are rusted out. And for the general public coming into the building, it’s not easy to access government services in there.”

While the municipal building is structurally sound, the concrete floor of the former fire and police garage is crumbling from years of exposure to road salt, said Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson. The area of the basement level directly underneath the garage is a hard-hat area, Olson said, and not open to the public. It also means some meeting rooms and office space on the basement level are going unused.

Olson said the municipal building also has major problems with its heating and cooling systems. The building’s two 1960s-era boilers are “limping along,” Olson said. “They’re 50 years old, and parts are hard to get.” One boiler failed during the spell of extreme cold temperatures earlier this month.

The building has large windows on its north and south sides, but they’re uninsulated and have chronic problems with leaks, said Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson. The distinctive screen of terra-cotta pipes on the building’s facade actually serves to shade the windows from excess heat, he said.

On top of all that, the municipal building is also not handicapped-accessible. Updates to the bathrooms and elevator, while needed, would also be a big project, Olson said.

The question of how to address the list of issues, either through renovations or constructing a new building, has been hanging over city officials for some time, said Marshall City Council member John DeCramer.

“This has been on the docket for years,” DeCramer said. A building study conducted in 2006 noted the damage to the garage floor, as well as the need for updated plumbing and ventilation and new boilers.

“We’ve got to start doing something,” DeCramer said. But the scope and potential cost of renovating the building, or of building a new city hall, calls for in-depth consideration. DeCramer is one of the council members and city staff on a task force being formed to study the options for the municipal building. He said the group will start by taking stock of current conditions.

“We’re really going into this with no preconceptions,” DeCramer said. “We need to prioritize what has to be done, what should be done, and what we’d like to do.”

“It would be kind of nice to keep it,” DeCramer said of the current building. But if it isn’t feasible to renovate it, the city needs to look at other options, he said.