(Posted April 15, 2016)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
For years, London city officials have talked about consolidating city offices into the old primary school building at Walnut and High streets. On April 7, city council said “yes” to hiring an architect to draw up the possibilities.
The focus is on the first floor, which covers 30,000 square feet. Council set aside $30,000 for an architect to measure the space, document built-in fixtures, and create construction documents. Once finalized, the city can use these plans to secure cost estimates for a possible renovation.
“We want a professional opinion on what needs to be done,” said Mayor Patrick Closser.
The recommendation to take this first step came from the city properties committee, formed by Closser at the beginning of the year. Architect and former city councilman Jason Schwaderer chairs the group which meets every two weeks.
The idea is to move all city departments— except for police, fire and street—to the primary building, Schwaderer said. Currently, those departments are split between two buildings on East First and East Second streets. They include offices for the mayor, safety service director, law director, auditor, building department, parks and recreation, tax department, and board of public utilities. All would go into the primary building, with space also set aside for a records room, kitchen, break room, storage, and the Madison County Genealogical Society, which already uses one of the classrooms.
The consolidation would increase convenience for residents and others doing business with the city, increase efficiency of city operations, and, according to Councilman Rex Castle, make a better impression.
“We’re way old school now,” Castle said of city offices being spread out in multiple buildings across town.
No decisions have been made as to what the city would do with the First and Second street properties should the consolidation happen. One possibility discussed is to sell the properties. Also, no decisions have been made on how the second floor of the primary building would be used, though London Academy recently expressed interest in using the space.
The city of London acquired the Walnut Street school property several years ago in a land swap with London City Schools. The school district built the new London Middle School on farmland the city owned on Route 38 across from the high school and elementary. While the middle school was under construction, the school district continued to use the Walnut Street campus and paid rent to the city. The rent money went into a city fund earmarked specifically for capital improvements at the site.
In recent years, some of those earmarked funds have been used for repairs and improvements to the old middle school gym, now used as the London Community Center. Currently, the fund balance stands at just over $217,000, with revenues still coming in. The school district continues to rent the bus garage, and London Academy continues to rent classroom space.