WALKER — Construction of the city’s new City Hall on Aydell Lane has reached the point where the edifice has become a highly visible feature that residents and visitors can view as they pass through the city’s major crossroads.
The steel beams that serve as the building’s structural heart, installed in the early days of construction, are now all enclosed, concrete floors have been completed on all floors and the internal metal frames that will form the walls of future offices, meeting rooms and other facilities are in place. Encasing the building are special water-resistant panels that will help assure the facility has extra protection against moisture buildup. Within the next few weeks, the brick and stone that will give the City Hall its signature final visage will be installed.
Mayor Jimmy Watson, along with the city’s Chief of Operations Jamie Etheridge and Director of Finances Mike Cotton, recently conducted a tour of the $6.5 million building which is slated for occupation by the city’s administrative and financial staff in March 2021.
“Our city’s administrative staff, the City Council and citizens spent a great deal of time working with the architects in designing a building that would be something special for our city and would meet our needs into the foreseeable future. We are very pleased with the way that construction is progressing,” Watson said.
Jay Labarre, of Labarre Architects of Denham Springs, was the building’s designer and Stuart & Company General Contractors LLC of Baton Rouge are the builders.
“We are very pleased with the building’s design and with the contractors who have kept us up to date on the progress of construction. Despite the coronavirus, the contractor has stayed on schedule, and it appears that the building will be completed on time,” the mayor explained.
Etheridge pointed out that the building will meet “absolutely every construction standard available and will meet all building codes that are required. The all-metal construction of the interior walls are one fire prevention measure that is being employed. Of course, the building will have an extensive sprinkler system and measures that assure the safety of all who use this great building.”
The front of the building faces Aydell Lane, but access to the building will also be available to the public on the west side of the building. A new, paved road on the west side connects Aydell Lane with Walker South Road, allowing for additional access. An abundance of parking spaces will be available on all sides of the building alleviating a problem with the current City Hall on Florida Boulevard. Patrons will have the ability to pay bills and fees from their vehicles, but instead of a conventional window, those using this feature will see a screen showing the clerk and the associated paper work will be transmitted through a tube system as used at some drive-up facilities.
The entrance foyer features an area that soars up to the second floor. From that portal, those doing business at City Hall will have access to a number of offices housing city workers, including the utilities, purchasing and other facilities.
Also on the first floor will be the City Council meeting room, which doubles as the courtroom for the City Court. Also on the first floor will be one of two exercise rooms that employees can utilize during breaks. The rooms will include workout equipment.
“The workout rooms are part of our healthy lifestyle imitative. We want to give our employees the opportunity to get in some exercise as time allows,” Watson said.
Other special features of the building will be shower stalls and a nursing room for employees and others who are nursing infants.
The offices of the mayor, the city clerk, the finance director and the public records room will be on the second floor along with additional administrative offices.
The third floor of the building will be leased for office space; it is now a largely open area that can be customized to fit the needs of potential renters. Watson said the third floor can accommodate additional office space for use by city employees. A private entrance to the third floor, with access to one of the two elevators, is provided for use by potential renters of the upstairs offices.
Large windows that allow the use of natural light are a feature on all three stories of the building.
The new City Hall is situated on 4.72 acres with quick access to the city’s two main thoroughfares, Walker Road and Florida Boulevard (U.S. Highway 190).
“We spent a lot of time planning this building and, as we were planning, we kept making changes. We were not in a hurry … we wanted to get it right," Etheridge said. "This building will be a new symbol of our city and will allow the city’s administration to better serve our citizens. We are excited about how far we have come and we are can’t wait until the day when we can move into our beautiful new building."
Watson said all new furnishings will be purchased for the new City Hall. It will become headquarters for the Walker Police Department, and the furnishings in that building will be left for use by the police force.
The new building was financed through a bond issue that will be retired through city revenues, much of which is derived from the city’s extensive natural gas business. No tax money is involved in construction of the building.