Delaware City Hall updates meant to improve accessibility, security

PAUL COMSTOCK
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Renovation work to improve accessibility, security and the work space for city employees continues Sept. 8 at Delaware City Hall. Workers are taking advantage of the building being closed to the public due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Renovations are underway to help Delaware's 83-year-old City Hall meet the demands of the 21st century.

The building, 1 S. Sandusky St., last was updated in 1992, after the city police department moved to the City Justice Center, 70 N. Union St.

Until then, City Hall housed not only the police department but also its indoor shooting range and a small jail, as well, said city community-affairs coordinator Lee Yoakum.

Now the building is being modified to improve access, security and its work spaces, he said.

The work began in July, with the schedule adjusted to coincide with the building already being closed to public access because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Yoakum said.

"Instead of reopening in some hybrid fashion, we said, 'Let's just keep it closed and we're going to start the project and get it done as quickly as possible,' " he said.

Several years ago, the police department conducted an assessment that pointed out the building's security weaknesses, Yoakum said.

The building has three entrances -- one each on William and Sandusky streets and a third on its south side -- but only one was monitored, he said.

"At the same time, it's the public's building, and we want people to come to City Hall, so we have to mix security with access, and we think we've done it here," he said.

The renovations will leave the building's south-side entrance as the only one open to the public. A lobby is being created there, Yoakum said.

"We didn't want people to come in and see a sign with a bunch of arrows pointing here, here or here," he said. "We'd like to have people there to help the public. We'd like it to be easier to access what residents need to find."

"How residents and visitors navigate the building, pay their bills, meet with staff and attend public meetings is a critical part of this, as is ensuring a municipal building that is safe and secure," said Assistant City Manager Kyle Kridler, who is leading the project.

The south entrance also is accessible to disabled people, Yoakum said.

The building's doors on William and Sandusky streets -- each at the top of a tall set of steps -- will remain despite being largely unused, he said.

The William Street entrance could be used by some employees. The Sandusky Street entrance opens to a hallway that could be used for future ceremonies or other events, Yoakum said.

"It's an icon of downtown Delaware and has been since the first City Hall was built in the 1800s, so we want to make sure our renovations are effective as far as conducting city business, but also respectful as far as that tradition of City Hall being part of our downtown, and preserving that history and its place in our downtown culture," he said.

Inside the building, a number of walls will be removed or reconfigured to update the work environment, he said.

"We don't need as many of the walls and things that were part of office life in the '90s," he said.

"What we're going for now is more communal space, shared working space and open areas," Yoakum said. "Where before we had cubicles set up, now we'll have a conference room or open work areas. ... So it's a more open working environment, and it'll be better for employees and improve productivity and functionality, as well."

City Council in 2019 approved $1.3 million for the City Hall project and renovation of the top floor of 18 E. William St. -- a building next door to City Hall owned by the city -- to house the city planning department, he said.

The bulk of the debt will be paid back over 15 years using lease payments from COhatch, a coworking space on the lower floors of 18 E. William, and impact fees, he said.

Lincoln Construction, Columbus, is the main contractor at City Hall.

Yoakum said the work began on the ground level and the top floor will be the last area finished, probably in January.

By November, it's expected the lower areas will be fully operational.

When renovations are complete, City Hall will house about 40 employees working in five departments, he said.

The finance department, which includes income tax and utility billing, moved to space at Mingo Park for the duration of the project.

The other City Hall departments will continue to work either from home or in temporary space at City Hall.

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The remnants of a large "D" for Delaware remain visible on a hallway wall inside City Hall as renovation work continues.