Parts of City Hall to get new siding

Jul. 23, 2013 @ 09:29 PM

A $6.3 million exterior facelift will equip City Hall with better waterproofing and parts of it with new exterior cladding that’s sturdier than the material that’s been on it since 1978.

General Services Department officials intend to brief the City Council on the plan next week, during a Thursday work session. They’ve already cleared the design with the city/county Historic Preservation Commission.

The most noticeable change will be the replacement of the decorative concrete-like panels that adorn several parts of the building, most notably its south side. An inspection found that they’re only weakly anchored to the structure.

Similar structural weaknesses will require the replacement of the brick wall on the building’s northwest corner, the one that fronts Mangum Street. Its attachments are so weak that General Services had contractors shore up the brickwork over the winter, to buy time to plan a full-on renovation.

“We don’t want to let it reach that point,” General Services Director Joel Reitzer said when asked if there was an actual danger of part of the existing cladding falling off.

The plan is to use metal to replace the cladding on the side face of the building and on the cylindrical City Council chamber that fronts Mangum Street. The material is like the siding used on the city’s Walltown Recreation Center.

The northwest-corner brickwork, meanwhile, will be replaced with new brickwork. That’s a change from the original plan, which suggested metal cladding there too.

But the preservation commission in May vetoed that idea, members preferring that the parts of the siding that are now brick stay brick.

They also were none too keen on replacing the concrete panels with metal, but yielded on that point.

Meeting minutes say the commission’s chairwoman, Heather Wagner, did complain the replacement will make the exterior “fancier than what it was intended to be” in the building’s original, 1970s-era design.

Overall, preservation commission members wanted to “maintain the integrity of” the original design even though City Hall isn’t formally considered one of the buildings that makes downtown Durham historic, Reitzer said.

The request for new brickwork on the northwest corner did, at first, appear likely to add to the project’s cost. But Reitzer said designers have “scrubbed the estimate” and the plan and now think their budget can accommodate the change.

“We were very concerned” initially, as “we thought there was a $600,000 to $700,000” overrun possible in going with brick, he said. “But it may end up actually being even [in] dollars. We’re very close. We’re going to try not to spend any additional money staying with brick.”

An overrun of any sort associated with a preservation commission request would likely go down poorly with a City Council that’s been at odds with the group anyway in recent months. The two have had disagreements over private-sector developments planned downtown and near Durham Central Park.

The $6.3 million is a budgeted expense, and counts money city officials have already spent on things like design work and the inspection that found the weak attachments.

The upcoming construction will cost about $4.7 million and also include the replacement of the building’s rooftop chillers, Reitzer said.

The problems with the northwest-corner brickwork appear to be a “latent defect” dating from the building’s construction in the late 1978s, Reitzer said.

Meanwhile, the fasteners holding the concrete panels to the building have weakened over time, and some of the panels themselves have warped. Waterproofing issues have contributed to those problems.