Mayor takes breath to analyze future of City Hall Annex
There’s plenty of parking at Warwick City Hall these days.
The administration didn’t plan it that way, but ever since a burst water pipe forced the closure of the Annex building shortly after the New Year, the former Greene School on Draper Avenue is home for a number of city departments ranging from planning to building, personnel, management information services and the tax assessor.
In the near future the tax collector that is operating out of the City Hall basement conference room could join them now that the quarterly payment deadline of Jan. 15 has come and gone, Mayor Scott Avedisian said Friday. Knowing that many people like to pay their taxes in person, Tax Collector Kyla Jones didn’t want people to show up at the Annex only to be sent across town. The basement conference room was close by.
Avedisian is in no rush to have city departments return to the Annex, which over the years has gone through various iterations starting as police headquarters, then a fire station and, with additions and renovations, offices that had previously been housed in City Hall. Some of those offices were on the second floor of City Hall in space that had been taken from Council Chambers.
Before rushing to patch up the Annex, Avedisian wants to consider the options that could range from a dramatic renovation of the Annex to permanently relocating department offices and the demolition of the Annex.
“What this is about is what the water damage revealed,” City Planner William DePasquale said Monday. He explained as wet tiles and walls were removed the patchwork of alternations over the years was exposed.
The mayor wants to learn the cost of bringing the Annex up to code. This may include replacement of the elevator. He also wants to work with the Interlocal Trust to determine what the city will be entitled to in insurance payments so as to gain a picture of what the city would have to spend if it elected to significantly upgrade facilities or relocated.
“I want to be thoughtful and deliberative about this,” Avedisian said Friday. He didn’t offer a timetable for reaching a decision, pointing out that the current temporary system at Greene functions and that, in the long run, the decision reached could affect municipal offices for decades.
He said the planning department is exploring alternatives that include vacant municipal buildings such as the school administration building on Warwick Avenue and the closed Buttonwoods Community Center, as well as Randall Holden and Wickes Schools that the School Committee intends to close in June. Avedisian said the long-range options for those buildings and their value, which includes their sale along with renovation costs if they were to be converted to municipal offices, is being considered.
DePasquale said the department is performing a detailed planning analysis of city buildings that in a spreadsheet will show the space available, parking, estimated cost of renovations, the time needed to complete those renovations and the distance from City Hall and departments based there. The analysis will also include the cost of leasing space.
As for the Annex, DePasquale said the options are restoration and rebuilding. The building has 33,000 square feet, of which 28,000 square feet was used for department offices. City maintenance works out of the first floor north end of the building. And while MIS offices have moved, the city’s computer server, which wasn’t damaged in the flooding, is still housed in the Annex.
A prime consideration, said DePasquale, is the convenience to the taxpayer. He would prefer the consolidation of municipal offices so that those doing business with the city are offered “one stop shopping.”
Immediately after the flooding was discovered, as people reported for work, the pipes were repaired and crews ripped out sodden ceiling tiles, carpeting and wallboard. Asbestos has also been removed. That “basic cleanup,” as Avedisian termed it, has been done.
With offices having been moved out of the Annex and relocated, there is the opportunity to assess the longer-range needs of the city. If the decision is to stay in the Annex, then the mayor said he thinks it is time to bring the whole building up to code.
DePasquale said the SWOP of city buildings should be complete in less than two weeks.
He explained that is a study of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.