Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 19, 1998
$20.5m makeover eyed for city hall
The “jewel” of downtown Hamilton may get a $20.5-million multi-year polishing.
A nine-year retrofit of city hall, proposed in this year’s capital budget, would beautify and upgrade the nine-storey marble-sided building on Main Street West at Bay Street.
It’s a makeover that’s long overdue, says Alderman Dave Wilson.
“We’ve been to every council chamber in the region, and ours is the worst.” It’s embarrassing, he added.
Lieutenant-Governor Hilary Weston saw more torn carpet than red carpet when she visited on Monday.
The threadbare carpet in the council chamber is patched with duct tape, and city staff rented new blinds last fall to replace the chambers’ tattered curtains.
The project, which must be approved by city council, includes major upgrades of the building’s electrical and mechanical infrastructure.
Bob Desnoyers, assistant manager of building operations and maintenance, said the city has no money set aside to pay for the retrofit. He said the $20.5-million price tag is based on staff estimates. If the project gets a green light, a consultant will be hired, and the cost “refined, ” Desnoyers said.
Wilson said that once the city budget is hammered out, council will know how much it can afford to spend, but an upgrade is clearly needed.
“The electrical capacity isn’t up to it, ” he said. “No one had personal computers back when they built city hall, and now we have 700, ” while the upper floors are a “rabbit warren” of cramped offices and narrow, twisting hallways.
Part of the problem is city hall has too many people in it, and some departments and staff may have to be moved into new quarters elsewhere.
Desnoyers said city hall is bulging with around 550 people. Even the basement, originally a storage area, is fitted with offices.
The cramped conditions will be further strained as Regional Chairman Terry Cooke, chief administrative officer Michael Fenn and clerk Robert Prowse and their staffs prepare to move out of regional headquarters in the Ellen Fairclough Building at 119 King St. W. and into new offices at city hall in April.
Details of the refit include new elevators, renovation of the council chamber and the public spaces on the first and second floor, a new entrance for the mayor’s office, and a permanent committee meeting room big enough to handle private meetings of the full city and regional councils.
Additional office space for regional councillors from the suburbs must be found, and the building’s major heating, cooling and water systems need to be replaced.
Wilson said work could begin this summer.
Cultural and recreation manager Ross Fair wrote to council’s finance and administration committee: “When constructed in 1958 and opened in 1961, it was the jewel of the downtown. Sadly, it is difficult to say that today.” (Hamilton Spectator, A3, 2/18/1998)