ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans City Design Advisory Board (DAB) Monday night granted design approval for the proposed municipal parking garage and the new state office building on Federal Street.

The board also approved the demolition of the Rail City Salon building on Lake Street. The demolition of the structure at 15-17 Lake St. was approved with a vote of 4-2, with Peter Ford and David Barber dissenting.

The entire site plan, including the office building, garage, and building demolition, will go to the city’s development review board on Aug. 12.

Because the building is part of the historic district, the city was required to present an analysis of its historic value as well as an estimate of the cost of restoring the building.

According to historic preservationist Liz Pritchett, who was hired by the city to analyze the building’s historic value, most of the building’s historic architectural features have been lost. After detailing the architectural features that have been lost, she concluded, “The loss of the building to demolition, in my professional opinion, would not have a substantial impact on the overall character of the historic district.”

The building was constructed in 1851 to serve as St. Albans Academy. The original structure, about a quarter the size of the existing one, was moved to its current location in 1860.

Restoring the building would cost $311,000 according to Cross Consulting Engineers.

The city has not yet purchased the building.

The demolition is necessary for the construction of the new parking garage on the city’s core parking lot, according to David White of White + Burke, the real estate firm assisting the city with the project. The parking garage will, in turn, provide parking for a new state office building. The current building generates $2,185 in property taxes annually. White
estimated the new office building would contribute $150,000 annually.

The Lake Street entrance to the parking garage will be on the site of the Rail City Salon building. Changing the location of the entrance so it passes around the building would create a turn radius too narrow for delivery trucks to access the rear of Main Street buildings, explained White.

In addition, the garage, as designed now, would clip the corner of the building.

Director of Planning and Development Chip Sawyer suggested that removing this building would contribute to the preservation of other buildings by making downtown more economically viable. “Historical preservation is not sustainable without use of the existing buildings,” said Sawyer.

“We need to put something on the core lot… and on all of the vacant and underused lots around the core lot,” said Sawyer.

The DAB also gave its approval to the design of the parking garage. The garage will have five levels and 370 spaces.

Lighting inside the garage will be 20 times that found in a typical parking lot, according to project engineer Peter Cross. Sidewalks around the garage will have the same streetlights Main Street, although the north and west sides lights will be mounted to the building.

There will be safety screens on the first floor, blocking entry to the garage from anywhere other than the entrances.

The garage itself will be made of precast concrete, with recessed rectangular patterns made of a darker concrete. The concrete will be slightly tinted. The concrete in the foundation will be covered with stucco.

DAB member David Barber has repeatedly asked that a maple leaf pattern by included in the precast concrete. “We think to put it on every single panel would be distracting and overdone,” said Cross. “We’d recommend we put it in one single spot.”
The most recent version of the design included a brick inlay on two sections of the building. DAB member Peter Ford proposed removing the brick, arguing it served no purpose.

Without the brick, it became possible to include the leaf from the city’s logo at the entrance, as well. With the changes, the board voted to approve the garage design.

The board then moved on to the design of the four-story state office building. The architecture firm, Vermont Associates, has attempted to echo the city’s development pattern of buildings built close together in the design of the building. The brick façade facing Federal Street front is broken into sections by metal panels that divide the front façade into a taller section and a wider shorter one.

There is a recessed glass entry intended to resemble a storefront entry on Kingman Street with both a ramp for handicapped access and steps. A five-foot canopy will extend in front of the entry. “We’re trying to bring a sense of shelter, a sense of welcome,” said architect Ashar Nelson.

The office building will connect to the garage via a bridge.

The DAB approved the design for the office building, 4-2 with Peter Ford and Ryan Doyle dissenting.

Ford felt the design was unattractive and resembled 1950’s architecture, while Doyle was concerned with the pedestrian-level view of the building.