Emerald Hill's Makeover

February 23, 1994

Workmen are still putting the final touches on the renovations at Westminster's City Hall, but the project already appears to be a major success. Although major internal changes were made to the historic building, they were done with sensitivity and thought and at a very reasonable cost.

In order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the mansion, built by Col. John Longwell in 1842 and known as "Emerald Hill," needed some significant alterations. The city council chambers has been moved from the second to the first floor. A new elevator has made the second floor -- which could only be reached by a staircase before -- accessible to all. New bathrooms have been installed on the first floor and a new side entrance has been created.

The architectural firm of Daniels and Jones integrated all these -- changes while maintaining the integrity of the mansion's external appearance. On the inside, the changes blend in extremely well. The modern bathrooms meld nicely with the building's existing interior features, for example.

The changes to the council chambers represent a quantum improvement over the previous arrangement upstairs, where the council met in one room while the audience struggled to watch from an adjacent room. The audience is now in the same room as the council and can easily witness all the proceedings. Thanks to modern amplification system, citizens -- including the hard of hearing -- who attend meetings will be able to hear them as well.

The look of the refurbished council chambers acknowledges the ornate interiors that Victorians favored but it doesn't have the gaudiness that often overwhelms rooms mimicking that style of interior decoration. The tastefully coordinated drapery, carpets, upholstery and lighting fixtures add elegant touches. The most impressive feature is the beautifully crafted wood desk behind which the council sits. It dominates the room and lends authority to the proceedings.

Westminster got its money's worth from Northpoint Builders, the contractor. The entire project will cost $225,000, considerably less than originally budgeted. The work is expected to be finished by mid-March. Carroll residents interested in seeing a well-executed renovation should stop by Westminster's refurbished City Hall.

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