Bangor city councilors have given city staff the green light to seek bids for renovating the first floor of City Hall nearly four years after voters approved $6 million for the project.
The first-floor renovation project is designed to make the building safer by removing hazardous materials, more accessible by bringing it into compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act and easier to do business by consolidating the services residents most frequently access, such as paying taxes and registering vehicles, among other essential municipal services.
The project will be the Harlow Street building’s first major interior change since the mid-1970s, and comes nearly four years after voters approved $6 million for the improvements in November 2019. The building was constructed in 1914.
The city’s original plan focuses almost entirely on the building’s first floor, according to David Little, Bangor finance director. That work will include electrical and mechanical system upgrades, a new heating and ventilation system on the first floor, asbestos abatement on the first floor, a fire alarm system throughout the building, and a new elevator between the first and third floors.
The building’s existing elevator is small and doesn’t meet standards set by the ADA. It’s also old and replacement pieces are difficult and expensive to find, Little said.
The estimated cost of those improvements is $6.5 million, but including a $1 million cushion to cover unexpected expenses brings the base amount to about $7.5 million, according to John Theriault, Bangor City Engineer.
If the city receives bids as expected, construction could begin in October, Theriault said. The first step will be to move employees who work on the first floor elsewhere and begin asbestos abatement.
That additional work would bring the project total to about $9.5 million. With $6 million already approved by voters, this leaves about $3.5 million unfunded.
Some of the improvements, like a new HVAC system and ADA-compliant elevator, meet the definition of emergency funding in the city’s charter, Little said. This means the city can approve a bond to pay for them without getting voter approval.
City Manager Debbie Laurie estimated Monday night that borrowing approximately $4 million to fund the remainder of the project could lead to a $200,000 increase in the city’s annual budget, and a 10-cent jump in the tax rate in the coming years.
City councilors said they’d like to fund the additional items in the project through another bond rather than use some of the more than $20 million in pandemic relief funds it received through the American Rescue Plan Act, though municipal building improvements would be an allowed use of the one-time money.
While City Hall is aging and needs extensive and expensive upgrades, Laurie dismissed the idea of moving to another building. She said the idea was brought up about a decade ago, but councilors and residents at the time wanted city functions to remain in the existing centrally located historic building.
“People feel that core municipal services should remain in the downtown district,” Laurie said. “It’s a beautiful building, and my hope is when we get done with the first floor, we can restore it to some of its former glory.”