Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans City Clerk’s Office will be closed Friday to allow time to move into the auditorium. Other staff will follow as the ambitious City Hall renovation project moves into an important week of work.
Once the staff is situated in the auditorium, demolition will begin in the upstairs offices, explained Jim Cameron, the contractor overseeing the $2 million renovation of the hall.
“This is an intense week,” said Cameron on Tuesday.
Today workers were to build a temporary vault in the center of the auditorium. Cubicles will be built around the perimeter to house city staff while the offices, referred to as the east wing, are renovated.
Yesterday workers were testing hanging methods for sound curtains, which will be used for sound attenuation in the auditorium. “They’re like thick drapes, almost,” said Cameron. The drapes weighed 100 pounds.
Improving sound quality in the auditorium was one of the goals of the project.
Previously boarded up windows in the auditorium have been replaced, new restrooms and a handicap accessible ramp added, and woodwork and floors have been painstakingly stripped and restored.
The room now sports a new color scheme of yellow, tan and red.
Bakersfield carpenter Matt Rafferty was at work in the auditorium on Tuesday, finishing up the front entrance. “It’s nice to the building getting taken car of,” he said. “It’s got so much history.”
Trim removed to add the restrooms and improved handicapped ramp is being reused on the entrance, said Rafferty. While trickier to install than new trim, “it’s satisfying,” he said.
A new entrance has been built onto the rear of the building, complete with elevator, or at least an elevator shaft. Workers are still awaiting the delivery of the elevator itself, despite having ordered it in June.
“I think the economy is pretty good,” said Cameron, basing his assessment on the difficulty of getting ordered supplies. “Something that’s normally four weeks is now 12 weeks,” he added regarding deliveries.
The rest of the new rear entrance, named the west tower by Cameron, is complete and will be open for the public to use next week. Although the west tower connects directly to the auditorium, the front entrance will remain open until the elevator is installed.
Extensive work has been done in the basement, with the all-new mechanical systems installed, along with insulation.
Space has been cleared for the installation of a new vault in the basement, which will support another new vault in what is now the council chambers. Putting a vault below the new vault is the least expensive way to support it, according to architect Laz Scangas, who did the design work on the project.
To install the vaults, new fittings will be poured in the basement, followed by the floor of the basement vault. Then the existing floor will be removed and replaced with a layer of concrete that will serve as both the ceiling of the lower vault and the floor of the upper vault.
The new upstairs vault will be located between the city clerk’s office and the zoning office on the north side of the building. The current clerk’s office will become the council chambers, and will be able to house about 60 people for meetings, roughly double the number of audience members the current council office can accommodate.
Cameron said there are weekly meetings with city staff, and decisions are continually being made about what needs to be done, what will be less expensive to do now, and what can be done later.
“I’m a taxpayer,” he said. “We’re spending our money as smart as we can.”
One of the ways money is being conserved is with a grant from the Deep Energy Retrofit Program through the Vermont Energy Investment Corp.
The goal is to cut in half the energy used by city hall, not counting any new square footage added in the two elevator towers. “The plan and the goal is when we’re done, square foot for square foot, we’re going to use half the energy we did before,” said Cameron.
As part of that effort, there is now a state-of-the-art hot water tank in the basement that gets some heat from the air around it. There also will be air-to-air heat pumps in the east wing of city hall. “The whole city hall will have heat and air conditioning off of one heat compressor,” said Cameron.
After the work is complete and the new systems have been operational for a year, the city will receive funds through the program based on how much they’ve reduced energy use. In addition, the city is receiving funds during the construction process to support the installation of more efficient heating and lighting systems.
Sub-contractors are being hired locally and local suppliers are being used when possible. New flooring to match the existing floor in the main hallway was made in Fairfax, for example.
Rafferty, for one, has been pleased to have a local, long-term project to work on. It’s “keeping a lot of people busy,” he said.
The full renovations are expected to be completed in March.