City hall renovations discussion continues
By Grace Lovins
Talk of potential renovations and expansions of the Birmingham municipal building continued during the city commission meeting on Monday, November 27, as commissioners listened to an assessment report and reviewed conceptual designs for a new addition.
In July of 2022, per city manager Jana Ecker, the commission approved a contract with Telluris Architecture to assess the current state of Birmingham’s municipal building, which houses city hall and the police department. Telluris was also tasked with creating conceptual designs for a renovation or expansion.
The goal of bringing the report to the commission was to get input from officials about how they would want to approach necessary updates and changes to the building.
Some of the objectives of the report include analyzing safety and security, accessibility and operational efficiency, according to principal architect Aaron Olko.
Olko reported that the municipal building lacks adequate space for city hall departments and the police department, on top of several deficiencies in safety, security and ADA compliance. The presentation given by Olko showed that both the city hall departments and the police department have several safety and security risks.
Several police procedures such as gun storage, prisoner transport to and from the building, and the prisoner booking room all are visible to the public. Additionally, several city hall departments do not have emergency exits which do not require employees to leave the building through the public area.
Olko presented a three-story addition to the south side of the current building that would house the police department. With the police department removed from the current building, additional room for renovations and updated security would be possible for the rest of the city hall departments.
Commissioners agreed that they found the assessment report helpful, but would like more information from city staff and the police department as to what are the most urgent issues to tackle. Multiple commissioners also stated that it would be beneficial to look at options aside from a large addition to the building.
“I do think we need to talk about all possible solutions,” said commissioner Clinton Baller. “There was a presumption that was brought into this project, I think, that it’s very important that the police department remains adjacent to the rest of the functions of city hall, but there is no case for that made in the report.”
Baller and commissioner Therese Longe each noted that there is also the possibility of moving the police department or other departments offsite.
“I personally would be interested to know whether there are or can be an interim design that commissioner Baller says answers the question whether all the police functions have to remain on site. Perhaps prisoners don’t belong in the downtown; perhaps they should be processed elsewhere,” Longe said.
Commissioners recommended Ecker and police chief Scott Grewe create a list of the most urgent concerns that the city needs to address. The item was a discussion and presentation, and no formal action was taken by the commission.