Time standing still

City officials are looking into options for the old city hall on Ridge Road, beginning with exploring grant funding availability.

NORTH ROYALTON – The backdrop of the upcoming home days celebration is a major fixture of North Royalton’s history right in the heart of the community.

Most agree the old city hall is striking, but most likely judge the beauty based on looks. Come a bit closer, especially inside, and city officials say you’ll quickly believe the old adage that beauty is only skin deep.

“It looks great,” Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris said, “but when you get inside that fades. You have to look at substance and not form.”

So what lies in its future? It’s a question many are curious to know.

Blast from the past

The building is aging, heading for its 80th birthday.

With its major systems failing, city council began reviewing its options in 2012. What’s wrong with the building?

The HVAC system is outdated and unreliable. The air conditioning system in the mayor’s wing was not functioning last summer before the move. The mayoral wing was prone to flooding, and the roof needs replaced.

In the finance wing, an entire wall is bowed out.

The foundation is pulling away from the building, bricks are loosening and crumbling.

Guests must navigate a narrow, steep staircase to reach council chambers, which lacks audio-visual capabilities helpful for council and residents during presentations. And, the dais is extremely elevated, making it intimidating.

Back to the staircase, the building lacks handicap-accessibility features.

Technology is nonexistent.

The staff routinely experienced issues with call waiting and transferring calls.

“The computer server was up on milk crates. What does that tell you?” Kasaris said.

Security was also nonexistent. In today’s day and age, most city halls – Berea, Brook Park, Middleburg Heights to mention a few locally – feature door buzzers at the least. Royalton had a door buzzer system, but someone wishing to do harm could bypass through a half door if they were determined.

It was estimated during preliminary discussions that it would take at least $1.5 million just to fix these issues, but that figure is outdated officials say. To bring it into the 21st century would take even more.

“That figure would just make the building safe and dry,” Community Development Director Tom Jordan said. “You would not get a renovated building for that and it would lack ADA-accessible meeting space.”

Council agreed not to spend money on a sinking ship and began pursuing other options.

“The price would have been greater than $1.5 million. This goes beyond repairs. The functionality didn’t really work either. Our law director, assistant and their part-time staff were sharing an office, finance was cramped, everything there was jammed into a space that didn’t provide us an adequate way to serve our residents,” Council President Larry Antoskiewicz said. “It just didn’t work.”

Entering the 21st Century

At the same time officials were considering the city hall relocation, the old library was preparing to move to its new State Road building.

This move freed up its old building, which the city owned.

Not only was the old library on one floor, it was much newer, structurally sound, technology ready, featured public meeting space and was also more roomy. But, it needed work to reconfigure the open floor plan into office space.

The renovation cost $3 million; however, some other items are included in that pricetag that were not part of the actual construction such as the renovation of the Memorial Park restroom, park planning surrounding the playground investment and placement and site improvements.

There were also some other city hall-related projects in addition to the $3 million costs considered part of the overall project, furniture and audio visual capabilities for instance. Also, a fiber optics line was installed from the police department where it ended on state Route 82 to State and down to the city hall to correct the Internet issues plaguing the old system and enable the phones to be upgraded too. The cost of the fiber optics was $94,000, and the phone upgrade was $50,000 but will save $38,000 per year, paying for that project in five years or less. Wi-Fi hot spots planned for Memorial Park, the City Green and Heasley Field will cost $13,000.

Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw said city hall is the people’s house therefore it should be easily accessible to all.

“The old city hall was not the most accessible with ADA. The new city hall is now one of the most accessible buildings in the city because it is all on one floor and has no stairs,” he said.

Kasaris agrees.

“It’s not 1964 anymore. The prior city hall became antiquated, was not really handicap-accessible, leaked water, was moldy, was musty and needed over $1 million in repairs to correct its deficiencies and it was still too small to house the government offices,” he said. “Its time had come, the time to move on. (Former Mayor) Cathy Luks planned for an $11 million city hall in the town center. We have a new city hall at a much better price.”

The next chapter

The city is researching grant funding availability in an effort to refurbish the old city hall.

“We are exploring if there are any grant options available,” Jordan said. “It is quite limited because they don’t want to give money for a city hall, but this is not a city hall.”

He said there is money available for park-related projects or meetings spaces for parks.

“But to redevelop it into some other purpose, we have to agree on that purpose,” Jordan said.

So just what should become of it?

“The city master plan called for increased green space and to look at ways to improve the city’s overall character. If we can’t get a grant to preserve parts of the old city hall, I’d like to see more green space so that more fun events could be held on the city green from an outdoor family movie night or a nice concert. That way we still keep a little city history but also look toward the future too,” Langshaw said.

Antoskiewicz said, as always, everything must be put on the table and discussed with resident input.

“If it means a grant would be best to restore and maintain it and it becomes a viable part of the center of town, then that’s the way we move. If we find out that’s not the best way do things, then we open to other options – do we try to have concerts or if we can’t maintain it, do we knock it down and put a pavilion for outdoor events? We will put everything on the table and look at all the numbers and possibilities and move from there,” he said.

Kasaris said it’s a question that will need to be answered sometime soon. His hope is that grant money can be found to preserve North Royalton’s historical center.

“I support removing the additions and restoring city hall to the way it was when it was constructed using grant money and not resident tax dollars,” he said. “That’s discussion we have to have, what should be done with the old city hall?”

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