DENHAM SPRINGS — Extensive renovations are underway at the City Hall on Mattie Street in the Historic Downtown District. When construction is completed, it will consolidate a number of city offices, along with the City Court, which also serves as the meeting room for the City Council, in the one building.
Mayor Gerard Landry said the $1.5 million project will complete a long-range program to fully utilize the building that has served as City Hall since the flood of August 2016. During the flood the old, City Hall was inundated and the damage was so extensive that a decision was made to raze the facility and use the current building, which was the former Capital One Bank Building. Gerard said consideration was given to building a new, raised City Hall on the old site but explained that in the event of a flood, the building, because of its location, would have been inaccessible.
“We were fortunate that in the days after the flood we were presented with the opportunity to use the vacant bank building as a temporary City Hall. We were grateful for the opportunity to have a place to conduct critical city business at a challenging time,” the mayor said. “The owners of the building then agreed to allow the city to rent the facility for a very reasonable price, and we ultimately decided to purchase the building. The building was on the market at a price of $1.4 million, but the owners sold it to the city for a little more than $700,000.”
Landry called the rental agreement “one of those win-win situations.” The old bank building was empty, sitting right in the middle of our Historic Downtown District and was something of a white elephant, the mayor said.
“By converting it to our ‘new’ City Hall, we utilized a great building with plenty of interior space and outdoor parking in the heart of our city. The flood was unfortunate, but in the long run some good came out of it as it relates to our City Hall,” he said.
Funding for the improvements have come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The city was reimbursed for the damage to the old City Hall and two other buildings, one at the Animal Shelter, that were destroyed in the flood. Landry said the city ultimately received about $4 million from FEMA and those funds have been used for a variety of improvements in the city.
“We have been frugal in how we have spent those dollars. I tell everyone that we are not building a Taj Mahal; rather, we are building a safe, functional and readily accessible City Hall. We have carefully planned for city improvements and our city officials made it a point to get input from our citizens. We are hopeful that when all the construction is finished, we will have come out with something better than what we had before,” Landry said.
He added, “I tell everyone, the funds we are using are not my funds; they belong to our citizens, and we are working to give them something of which they will be proud.”
The mayor pointed out that the building readily loaned itself to service as a City Hall. The location was convenient and more than ample parking space was available. The building also had a drive-up station that was easily put to use for those wishing to pay utility bills and other city fees. The original structure had four drive-up lanes, but the city has consolidated that to one lane, opening up the space taken by the other lanes for even more parking. “And,” Landry said, “this site did not take on any water during the flood.”
When construction is complete, offices will be provided for the mayor, the city clerk, the city attorney, the chief financial officer, purchasing, human resources and payroll, and the City Court room. That room will also be used for City Council meetings and possibly for some community programs. Some of these offices are now spread out throughout the city. For example, sessions of the City Court are now being held in the nearby Masonic Hall, which the city rents for court sessions. The mayor’s office, now a small, interior cubicle, will be moved to a larger office that has a large window that looks out on Range Road in the heart of the city’s Antique Village.
“It will be a nice treat to be able to look out of the window and see visitors who come to shop in our popular Antique Village,” Landry said.
The construction project includes new floors throughout the building, upgraded lighting, repainting and general improvements.
Landry said that eventually some beautification and landscaping will be added to make the facility more visually attractive.
“We want this building to look like it has always been a part of the city. The building is situated in our Historic District and we want it to be viewed as part of this vital area in our city. Across the street is the renovated Train Station which is at the heart of some city celebrations such as Christmas in the Village. We want our City Hall to blend in with the charm of the area where it is situated,” he said.
Despite the extensive construction, city employees have continued to conduct business in the portion of the building that was originally reconfigured. When the building is complete, some offices will be moved and more space will be available for conducting city business. Construction began in January, and it is expected that it will be completed before the end of the year.
Sienna Construction won the bid for the project, and its crews have been working on the project since its inception.
Landry said completion of the City Hall, the new building at the city’s Animal Shelter and some other improvements will be an indication that the city is steadily moving away from the destruction caused by the flood that affected so much of Denham Springs.