VALPARAISO — Tall ceilings, massive windows and the addition of 2,000 square feet of space are bringing room to grow to the almost-finished floors of Valparaiso City Hall.
With sanding and nailing still going on in the background Monday, City Administrator Bill Oeding discussed the renovations ahead of a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday.
"We've grown since 1986 in terms of the services we offer, so we had to adjust and to put people in places that made sense," Oeding said.
The century-old building underwent a $4.2 million renovation and expansion project in a 10-month period. Construction started in late November 2018 and will finish up next week. City Hall will officially re-open for operation Oct. 10.
Gariup Construction, of Gary, was awarded the contract for work. The total contract price was $3,587,000 and City Council approved a $3 million, 20-year bond to pay for the project. In addition to the bond, $700,000 from the riverboat fund and $500,000 from the cigarette tax fund were used.
The approximate 17,000-square-foot building served the city as a U.S. Post Office until the mid-1980s. It was purchased by the city, renovated and opened as City Hall in 1986. The old mailboxes are still visible in the building's atrium.
"It was a different time ... and the needs were different," Oeding said, adding the post office was still in the building with for a time.
Just under 2,000 square feet of space was added to the ground floor on the north side of the building where an old loading dock for the post office used to be. The one-story addition houses the new council chambers, which will seat 100 people.
The building will be fully handicapped accessible once the transformation is completed, including a new elevator which will be installed in less than a month. Several new side entrances, and even the council dais, are equipped with ramps. Larger restrooms and new drinking fountains also add to the accessibility for all.
The renovation has allowed for seven new conference rooms, compared to just the one City Hall had before.
"Every office is set up for future growth," Oeding said. "As we need more and more space, we've got some cubicles available for those folks. We didn't want to build something where we were at capacity immediately."
The lower level of the building was renovated and will house an ever-expanding HR department, new conference rooms and other offices and facilities. Technology upgrades have also been added throughout the building. Oeding said secure door access has been updated and each conference room and council chambers will feature large video screens.
"You can't add space to (the existing building)," he said, but the space was rearranged with a focus on where people work and how they interact.
The mayor, his executive assistant and the city administrator offices have been left largely unchanged, Oeding said, aside from new paint, lights and carpeting. The old council chambers have been refurbished into the clerk-treasurer's office with a roll-up window to interact with visitors.
"It's been pretty cool to see it all come together," Oeding said. "I think they did a good job."
The inside of the building looks cohesive, but the view from the outside tells a different story. Oeding said this was intentional, as matching materials exactly is difficult. He said the design makes "it stand out, but still look good together."
City Hall employees and services were relocated to Hayes Leonard Elementary School during the project. Oeding said the original plan had been to stay City Hall during the renovations and addition.
However, that would have meant departments making several moves within the building as the project moved through City Hall. Employees also would have had to put up with noise, dust and other nuisances of construction for the 10 months while construction crews worked around them. Oeding said they're "really grateful to the school corporation" which allowed the use of the school during the construction.