Mount Airy reopens revamped Town Hall

February 25, 2007|By David P. Greisman | David P. Greisman,Special to The Sun

After toiling for 18 months in a cramped, temporary setting, Mount Airy Town Hall staffers were jubilant about returning to their renovated office on Main Street.

The three-story building - originally a bank and formerly a county library branch - now includes 3,000 additional square feet, plus extra space that was opened up by the construction.

The second floor has room for eight offices, including three with large windows that look through granite arches to the shops and offices below. The basement that was rarely used now has two conference rooms, which are available to the public.

"It's like night and day," said Mayor Frank Johnson. "It really is something for the whole community to be proud of. This is the people's building."

Town Hall, which reopened Thursday, moved into the 110 S. Main St. location in October 1993. But the structure, built around 1905, soon needed repairs and improvements.

The $1.6 million project included replacing the roof, gutting the interior and demolishing the rear wall to expand each floor by approximately 1,000 square feet.

Although high initial bids delayed the construction, the final product has numerous features for citizens and staffers, officials said.

The Town Hall has a heating and air conditioning system with individual room controls, an elevator, security cameras and a receptionist window.

BJ Dixon, the town clerk who has worked for Mount Airy in various capacities since 1979, is delighted by a new kitchen that is twice the size of the old one.

"We each get our own cabinets, and we can keep our own cabinets straight," she said. "We're not trying to figure out whose is whose."

Other aspects of the Town Hall may have a more immediate appeal to the public.

People who attend council and commission meetings will sit in new chairs, enjoy an improved sound system and see presentations from a fixed projector. Robotic cameras, meanwhile, will allow residents to watch proceedings from home via tapings televised by the Community Media Center.

Johnson also emphasizes that the basement and its two conference rooms are important elements that give the Town Hall a public face.

The basement was formerly left as "unimproved space" after the town made more than $250,000 in cost reductions in fall 2005. But last year, the town council held a special meeting to approve construction of "community space" in the lowest level at a cost of less than $115,000.

"It really is something that will be used by the community for years to come," Johnson said.

Construction costs were originally budgeted at approximately $1.2 million. That price eventually increased by $400,000 because of other improvements that the town felt were necessary, said Town Engineer Barney Quinn.

The town found other ways to save money, including making design changes and keeping the old council meeting table.

The table was built in 1984 by Stapf Crafters. Hanging in the same room is the framed quilt that 22 women made to commemorate the town's 1994 centennial.

The meeting room on the first floor "reflects where we've come from and where we'll be going," Johnson said.

The Town Hall reopened after a year and a half at the former offices of the Van Sant plumbing company, located nearby at 3 N. Main St. During construction, the town's commissions met at Mount Airy's fire department, senior center and library.

Staffers were forced to cope with a crowded workplace in an attempt to fit the mayor, 11 full-time staffers and any necessary documents into the smaller building.

Heather Smith, the zoning administrator, shared an office with two other people at the temporary Town Hall.

"To know that this is our final move, it's a very good feeling. There will be a place for everything, which will make it a lot more organized. My desk will probably still be a mess, I just won't have an excuse now," she said.

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