Repair, remove or relocate

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Director of Public Works David Biebel shines a flashlight on an area Thursday where an exterior wall is shown to be pulling away from the third floor of Sheboygans City Hall. (Photo: Photos by Gary C. Klein/Sheboygan Press Media)

It’s been known for sometime that City Hall, two years shy of its 100th birthday, is nearing retirement.

But head to the unused fourth floor and you’ll see why. While a long, stretching crack above the window near the stairs draws the most attention, it’s the gap below the window that is most alarming. What looks like minor wear and tear is actually a sign that the wall is pulling away from the rest of the building.

And so the question of what to do with City Hall is becoming more crucial as time goes on. City leaders could start discussing in the coming months whether to refurbish, rebuild or relocate, but none of those scenarios are easy or cheap.

Losing bricks, gaining space

The problems are obvious from the roofs to the basement. After years of Wisconsin’s brutal winters, the cream city brick is crumbling onto the roof, which itself is subject to periodic water damage. There are patches from emergency repairs visible on the roof, along with some blistering.

Director of Public Works Dave Biebel said the roof can hold out about five more years until it would need a complete redo. That, Biebel says, could cost anywhere from $150,000 to $250,000 alone.

There’s plenty of other issues — bricks are falling out of the exterior of the building, a portion of the boiler room ceiling is eroding and, of course, there’s the issue of the falling wall. Biebel said they’ll have to get a building assessment to figure out what’s causing the wall to bow out and what it would take to fix it. But that assessment itself will cost about $10,000 to $12,000.

The decision on City Hall might be more pressing if the building was being used to the degree it used to be. The building used to house the Sheboygan Police Department and Municipal Court — even the lower-level conference room used to be a gym. Now, only 17,000 sq. ft. of the 37,000-square-foot building is being occupied with actual city services or staff. The fourth floor offices store Christmas decorations, remaining phone line connections and other forgotten filing cabinets. The old court chambers are being used for IT training now, but little else.

As such, the building has become, at the very least, inefficient and cumbersome. Buildings Grounds and Motor Vehicle Superintendent Mark Pawasarat points out just one example in the City Attorney’s office. Behind an office closet is a breaker board, some pipes and a shaft that drops three floors and is wide enough to fit a rather thin person.

«You have to get inside there and crawl inside there to fix [the plumbling],» Pawasarat said.

Stay or go?

What was a gleaming gem of legislative space is hidden from view now. Biebel illustrates that point as he pulls out parts of the drop ceiling in the city assessors office. A flashlight reveals parts of the old Common Council chamber — crown-molding in the ceiling, remnants of previously dangling light fixtures and arching window frames with a view of the surrounding city.

More importantly, you have to remove a panel in the middle of the office and brush aside cables to see the true beauty of the old chambers — a stained-glass skylight. Those types of features are the reasons why refurbishing the building remains an option on the table.

«It’s got some great architectural character to the building,» Biebel said. «You can say, ‘Well, get out of here and build new,’ but the oak trim, the marble, you’re just not going to find that in any new construction.»

It’s likely that refurbishing would be the most expensive option, with Biebel saying their rough cost estimate would be a cost of $150 a square foot, which would come in at around $5.5 million.

The city could also build a completely new building, which could cost around $3 million plus land costs.

The library option

The seemingly cheapest option — to move City Hall into an existing building — also comes with the biggest built-in opposition. The city could lease an existing space, but few buildings are readily made for the functions or importance of City Hall. In fact, the only building being discussed currently as a possible candidate would be Mead Public Library. The idea is that the remaining offices in City Hall could be consolidated on one floor if some remodeling takes place.

Garrett Erickson, the director of the library, said he first heard the idea crop up during the Committee of the Whole meeting in mid-September and is waiting to hear formal proposals. But his initial impression is that it wouldn’t work.

«If we lost a lot of space, a floor or two is taken away, that would be a tremendous cut to our services,» Erickson said. «I don’t know how we would find space for existing collections.»

These decisions won’t be made any time soon, however.

While Common Council President Don Hammond has floated the idea of a building use committee to tackle the idea, it hasn’t been created yet. Formation of the committee could come up, however, at the next Strategic Fiscal Planning Committee meeting.

Reach Jason Smathers at 920-453-5167


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