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New municipal building opens this month

By Jennifer L. Williams

For the Enquirer

Hartselle’s new municipal building will open this month, and city officials said they hope it will create more excitement about living, working and playing in the community.

“In order to move forward, you have to be progressive,” said Mayor Randy Garrison. “We’ve worked really hard over the past five years to make Hartselle a place people want to be. This will be something folks can be proud of.”

The current building, on the northeast corner of Sparkman and Chestnut streets, has been in operation since 1956, when Sparkman Street was still the main thoroughfare through the city. U.S. Highway 31 and Interstate 65 have since caused shifts in the city’s commercial and industrial landscapes.

The new three-story former Wells Fargo Bank building stands prominently near the intersection of U.S. Highway 31 and Alabama Highway 36/Main Street. A year-long remodeling project is nearly complete, and city officials said they are excited to make the move.

“We are, simply put, just out of room here,” Garrison said of the current building. “We have been having to create spaces for people to work out of that were not designed as offices.”

The new building has plenty of room for Hartselle’s administrative offices and courts and offers room for future needs as the city continues to grow.

The process began in 2019, when city officials heard the building would be going up for sale. “We actually went to see it before it went on the market,” Garrison said. He said officials felt it was a good price in a great location, and the building’s inspections checked out for things like the structural integrity and elevator.

The city bought the property for $675,000 in February 2020, selected Leonard Design P.C. of Cullman as the architect after taking proposals and started working on plans for the remodel in October 2020.

“It was a team effort,” Garrison said. The city did a walk-through with the people who will be working in the building to see what their needs would be, he added, then compiled that info and gave it to the architects to begin the design process.

MORE SPACE

The new 21,000 square foot space includes three levels and the large, former bank vault, which will house city records in a secure, fireproof location. The first floor features a lobby with public restrooms, an auditorium that will be used for court and city council chambers, as well as main city administrative offices. Additional private meeting rooms can be used by both court and city officials.

Garrison joked all kinds of conversations have been overheard in the hallways of the current, 10,000-square-foot building, simply because there was no room to have private conversations – including those between attorneys and clients.

Even with the opening of the new facility, municipal court will continue to meet in the Sparkman Civic Center gym until things normalize following COVID, Garrison said.

The second floor will house the city’s IT, personnel and accounting offices and features a large break area/teaching area. It has room for modular expansion.

Hartselle Department of Development Director Jeff Johnson said security was a primary function of the design for the new building, which is also fully ADA-compliant and accessible. The entire third floor has been prepared and set aside with future expansion in mind.

“We are keeping an eye on what we may need 10-20 years from now,” he said.

A generator system will help keep city operations going in case of emergencies or power outages, Johnson added.

The city is waiting on the completion of last-minute details – to include security access control, IT and audio-visual setup – so Garrison said the big move should be made within the next couple weeks.

The current building will be retained by the city for future use, Garrison said.

BARGAIN HUNTING

The total cost for the remodel was just over $3 million.

“I know that sounds like a lot,” Johnson said, “but if you take into consideration the cost of the land and the building contract, it comes out to about $177 a square foot.” He said that’s a bargain in commercial construction these days, which runs about $300-500 per square foot – not including the land.

The city continues to keep public spending in mind as the opening nears, Garrison added. “We know it’s not our money we are spending,” he said, “it’s the taxpayers’ money. We are very mindful of that.”

He said officials have used creative methods to find furnishings to use in the new space.

“We were looking for chairs for the auditorium and had a quote from an office supply company for $35,000,” Garrison said. “Then we were eating lunch at Bentley’s and thought those chairs would work. We checked with a restaurant supply store and found chairs for $70 each, as opposed to $400-something each.”

The Hartselle Parks & Recreation Department is doing the landscaping once the parking lot is resealed and restriped, which will save the city money as well.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The city took this opportunity to also rebrand the city, and the new logo will be unveiled and explained at the official opening, Garrison said.

The entire project is an opportunity to present Hartselle as a city ready to take on the future. “It’s impressive,” Johnson said. “Not that we need to be highfalutin or anything, but it does make a statement.”

“When potential investors – new residents, new businesses, etc. – in our community come to city hall and see the limited parking and see this old building that has no restrooms for visitors on the main floor … that was a big need for us,” said Johnson. The new building is better suited for Hartselle; it’s more functional logistically and operation-wise, he added. “Every day, people in the courts, businesspeople, anyone – the public will be better served with these improvements.”

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