Garner Bonds

Garner's leaders hope bond can help pay for new town hall

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 19, 2013 

Fourth in a series

Since Garner moved into its current Town Hall buildings 38 years ago, the town’s population has more than quadrupled, and the staff has grown along with it. The space, however, has not.

As a result, the town manager often leaves his office so others can use its meeting space. In the planning department, architectural drawings are strewn wherever the staff can find space. And 37 space heaters dot various office floors, as common a feature as desks and computers.

Town leaders hope that will change in the near future; $12 million of the $35.7 million on the March 12 bond ballot would fund new town hall and police space.

“When you are in too-close quarters, efficiency drops, people’s interactions are hindered, and ultimately, morale declines,” said Councilman Buck Kennedy

Kennedy said the police situation – spread among three buildings that are drastically short on space and amenities – likely constituted the more immediate concern. But Town Hall buildings A and B have about 9,835 square feet. That makes for a tight fit, since a summer assessment determined the town needs roughly 14,600 square feet for the departments in those buildings.

Conceptual designs for the new space call for 20,000 square feet, which would allow town staff to grow before becoming cramped again.

The biggest current shortcomings, aside from elbow room, are storage and meeting space.

“It’s not anything new; it’s just a more efficient way to organize the rooms and facilities,” town management analyst Kady Doelling said of the new design.

Buildings A and B house basically all town departments aside from police and public works. The town’s government moved to 900 Seventh Ave. after a fire destroyed the old town hall downtown in 1974.

The awkwardly laid out buildings – designed for a library when built in 1973 – have numerous 45-degree angles and odd entryways. As such, they waste much of the limited space available.

Between them, the two buildings have just one closed-off meeting space that doesn’t abut someone’s desk: a room adjoining the council meeting room. The administrative building has none, so the office of Town Manager Hardin Waktkins often becomes the place for staff meetings and talks with residents.

“If someone came in pretty upset about a situation, we’d have to find an area to kind of kick people out to go speak to her,” Doelling said.

Elsewhere, storage closets have become offices, and open spaces house tightly fitted cubicles and file cabinets. The desks of the neighborhood improvement manager, public information officer and economic-development director occupy a tight path leading to the finance director’s office.

The IT staff, meanwhile, deals with the loud hum of servers just behind a door and thin wall in a room where a separate air-conditioning unit is required to prevent overheating. That makes the IT office chilly.

The exact plans for a new Town Hall won’t be decided before the bond vote. Most likely, the town would first spent roughly $4 million to turn town-owned buildings at 912 Seventh Ave. into a new, centralized police station. That would open up the police administration building, and Town Hall employees could spread out until Garner leaders decide how to move forward on Town Hall.

The options are to either connect and renovate the police administration and Town Hall buildings or tear them down and build a new one.

A new building would cost roughly $1 million more than renovating, according to initial projection by design firm BJAC. The decision on which option to pursue would be made during a retreat that will follow the bond vote. As for a timeline, an initial estimate by financial consultants Davenport & Associates suggests a Town Hall might be built between October 2014 and April 2016.

Other towns, including Wake Forest, have recently upgraded their facilities.

“It’s just more space,” said assistant town manager Rodney Dickerson. “More space just seems more functional; it seems more inviting for the public.”

Kennedy downplayed the possibility of a frills-laden town hall, saying the town would build only what it needed.

“I think a lot of the folks in Garner are probably the last to demand that we have a grand town hall,” he said. “They’re the kind that would spend that money wisely.”

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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