The Mandeville City Council last week rejected Mayor Donald Villere’s proposal to renovate and expand City Hall, despite arguments from architects that the 41-year-old building is in dire need of an overhaul to bring it into compliance with building codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Council members said the project is a desire rather than a need and should be addressed when the council discusses the city’s capital projects budget later this summer but not before.
The council did vote to replace the aging building’s roof, a $148,950 project that will be done by Fischer’s Inc. of New Orleans, the low bidder.
But the first step in the larger project was voted down 3-1, with Councilman David Ellis absent.
Councilwoman Carla Buchholz, who cast the dissenting vote, pointed out that the panel was being asked to vote only to approve the hiring of Fauntleroy Latham Weldon Barré Architects to develop plans and was not committing funds to the building project. Hiring the firm would have cost about $150,000.
The cost of the renovation and expansion was pegged at $2.5 million.
“I don’t know if it’s a definite need, but it’s time to plan for it,’’ she said.
But Councilman Rick Danielson said he viewed the resolution to hire the firm as a commitment to go forward with the project.
Architects Kieran Weldon and Lynn Mitchell said the building’s problems are serious and include the lack of a sprinkler system, ineffective air conditioning, and bathrooms and doors that are not ADA-compliant. “This is not a vanity project,’’ Weldon told the council.
The architects said their approach, which included an addition for a new, larger council chamber, would cause the least disruption to city government.
The City Council had delayed acting on the proposal at its May 14 meeting in order to gain more public input.
Councilman Clay Madden said that while people do want to see City Hall improved, he’s not sure it’s their top priority, and he wants to wait until the council prioritizes all of its capital needs.
“I do think the building needs to be updated,’’ he said.
But Councilman Ernest Burguières said he’s heard from constituents who view the project as frivolous spending. The city can use the nearby Paul R. Spitfaden Community Center for public meetings if the current space is too small, he said.
Moreover, he noted, Mandeville is not under any court order to update the building, and as prudent stewards, the council should reject the plan.
“Please renovate the bathrooms,’’ Weldon said, adding that he has a special-needs son. Burguières bristled at that comment, but Danielson stepped in and said the council was going to move on.
But Jerry Coogan, a former councilman, returned to the issue, chiding Burguières. “As an attorney, you know you are not in compliance,’’ he said.
The building’s appearance also drew some criticism, with Planning and Zoning Commission member Nixon Adams saying it doesn’t look like it belongs in Mandeville. “No building in town is more uncharacteristic,’’ he said.
“It’s ugly,’’ Burguières agreed.
Danielson said the matter is not dead and likely will be revisited in the budget process.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.