Havre de Grace residents love or hate unorthodox new City Hall HARFORD COUNTY

December 06, 1992|By Dianne Bates | Dianne Bates,Contributing Writer

The new Havre de Grace Municipal Office Complex, nearing completion on Pennington Avenue, features an architectural design that is a radical departure from the historic standard in this waterfront city.

It will replace a stately red-brick edifice that was built in 1870. The old City Hall -- severely damaged during a fire during the 1920s and renovated several times thereafter -- was on the verge of being condemned by the state.

City fathers decided in 1990 that it would be less expensive to build a new structure than repair the deteriorating old one.

Opinions are passionate about the new building, according to Larry F. Parks, administrative assistant at the city's Department of Public Works. "Either you like it or you don't," he said.

Depending on who you talk to, the building looks like either a tourist rest stop somewhere in the Southwest or a timeless piece of modern nautical-style architecture.

Longtime history buff and architectural preservationist Madelyn Shank loathes the new Municipal Office Complex. "I think it looks like something out of the 1930s," she declared. "I especially don't like the columns."

Mrs. Shank and her husband, Ellsworth Shank, were members of the Havre de Grace Historic District Commission, a panel that seeks to preserve the historical architectural integrity of the city.

They were removed from their posts by Mayor Gunther Hirsch shortly after he took office in May 1989 -- just before plans for the new city hall project were unveiled.

The mayor scoffed at suggestions that his "restructuring" of the Historic District Commission had anything to do with plans for the new City Hall.

A change was needed on the panel, he said, because "members were too set in their ways."

The Shanks believe that the old City Hall building on Union Street is still viable and should continue to be used.

"Mayor Hirsch decided there was going to be a new City Hall, and that's all there was to it," declared Mrs. Shank.

An observer who was more guarded in her criticism was Kay Mike, executive director of the Havre de Grace Chamber of Commerce. Mrs. Mike said that she would have preferred to have seen something "more historical or Colonial" rather than the low-slung modern building that was built.

"The building sketches were on display for the voters but the end result is much more modern looking [than the renderings suggested]," she said.

About the only positive feature of the building, according to Mrs. Mike, is that "the city offices will all be under one roof," instead of at scattered sites.

City workers look forward to moving into the building.

Charlotte Mitchell, an accounting clerk, is eager to get out of the cramped City Hall into the spacious new structure.

"The heating system here is terribly antiquated, " she complained. "We freeze to death in the winter and roast in the summer."

City offices expect to move into the complex in January -- two months ahead of schedule and $50,000 below budget.

Designing a municipal building in a city that has six historical periods proved a daunting challenge for architects Gary David Getz, 33, and Terence D. Taylor, 32, of Havre de Grace-based Getz Taylor Architects Inc., which won the $800,000 project in September 1990.

The unusual 8,200-square foot complex is a striking departure from what Mr. Getz refers to as "the Williamsburging" of the area. The most prominent feature is the Council Chamber rotunda, which can hold up to 180 people.

"Havre de Grace is a political town," said Mr. Getz, who is the son-in-law of Mayor Hirsch. "People here like to come to town meetings which are held at night. The rotunda was designed to resemble a lighthouse. When it's lit up, everyone in town will know when something is going on in there."

The architectural team, which includes interior designer Karen Davenport, aimed for a timeless quality when planning the steel structure, rather than rehashing one of the predominant historical styles prevalent in Havre de Grace.

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