Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:32 PM on Wednesday, November 30, 2011

City remodeling takes shape

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer NewsPhoto provided

Julie Swisher of the city's Finance Department and Carey Meyer, Homer Public Works director, set up a temporary reception area at City Hall. Formerly the city manager's office, it will offer meeting space once the remodel and expansion project are complete..

The first phase of the $2.2 million dollar remodel and expansion of Homer City Hall is about to wrap up, right on budget and a bit ahead of schedule.

"The goal is to allow most of the people to return to City Hall from their temporary set-up around Christmas," said Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer.

Ground was broken on the project in June, with Steiner's North Star Construction the contractor selected to do the work. When completed, the 9,000-square-foot building, that once served as a bank, will have an additional 4,200 square feet, a new boiler replacing a costly electrical heating system and new energy-efficient lighting throughout.

"Our goal was to turn over the new addition and roughly half of the old building to occupy after Thanksgiving," said Todd Steiner. Todd and his brother, Tim, partner with their father, Ray, in the construction company. With that done, the goal now is to "tackle the last half of the existing structure."

During construction, the city's administrative offices, planning, IT and personnel departments were relocated to the city-owned Homer Education and Recreation Complex, the former intermediate school located at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue.

The new phase includes installation of siding on the exterior of City Hall, its blue and gray weathered appearance a nod to the city's connection to the sea. A handicap-accessible ramp, parking areas and a wider porch have been added to the Pioneer Avenue entrance. The ground floor entrance near the clerk's office also can be accessed by a wider walkway and nearby handicap parking areas.

Two new walkways create a link to city hall's neighbor, Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage.

"We thought we could help each other out by creating a walkway between the various parking lots in case of overflow conditions for either the campus or City Hall," said Rick Abboud, city planner who also was chair of the Renovation and Expansion Task Force. "It's natural that people will walk in between the two facilities and we wanted to provide a safe place."

An area has been created for a rain garden that will help deal with run-off during rains and snowmelt, and will be part of the landscaping effort in the spring.

Inside, what was once the city manager's office is being transformed into an area that can be used by the public for small meetings. The city manager's office will occupy a second-story corner office, with windows offering views of the Kenai Mountains to the south. Also in the new second-floor area are offices for other administrative personnel. Plans call for the current main entrance and waiting area to be expanded.

The first floor of the addition will offer increased space for IT, something beyond the closet-like area it once occupied. Planning and zoning also will have a larger area, with countertops available for rolling out drawings and maps. A meeting room to the side of planning and zoning connects directly to the city council chambers, offering space for executive sessions when required.

Designated areas for copiers and storage means employees will no longer have to squeeze between stacked boxes and around copy equipment. The project includes new ceilings, new carpet, new paint, new doors. New furniture has been kept to a minimum, but there will be new chairs and tables in the council chambers, making it more comfortable for the public.

"We're ahead of the contracted schedule, but it's something we always kind of had under our hats, it's what we were shooting for," said Steiner.

At peak times of the work, Steiner's North Star had a crew of nine people, as well as local sub-contractors including Eayrs Plumbing and Heating, Woodworth Electric, Paradise Painting, Mark's Drywall, East Road Services and Peninsula Insulation.

"The only ones that were out of town were some specialty contractors, like for the fire suppression system.

"Everything has gone according to plan to date," said Steiner. "The addition was pretty straight forward. Remodels are always full of little surprises, but we knew that going into it. We haven't run into anything that was substantial."

The biggest challenge was working on a facility while it was still in operation.

"It's not the first time we've done it and the employees and project manager were good to work with so it went really smooth," said Steiner.

City Manager Walt Wrede, whose office was one that was relocated, said construction has caused some challenges for IT personnel.

"We didn't have a very good computer connection when we first got over here (to the Homer Education and Recreation Complex). It's all wireless and we didn't have a good wireless connection, so we had to make some adjustments, but overall it's gone pretty well," he said.

Even though it's been several months since the project began and there are signs indicating where offices are, Wrede said there has been some confusion.

"We still have people that go to City Hall and have to be redirected here, but about the time the public figures it out, we'll be back in the other building," he said.

Wrede had high praise for Steiner's North Star Construction.

"I can't say enough good things about them," he said. "They're on schedule and on budget and they're doing a great job. I'm amazed at how quickly they're getting this done."

From his temporary office at the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, Abboud was eager to have this part of the project done so he can return to City Hall.

"Everything's going excellent as far as I can tell," he said. 'We should be able to move into parts of the building during the holiday season."

The next phase of the project includes upgrades to the council chambers and the city clerk's office.

"I'm sure there will be an open house," said Meyer of an opportunity for the public to view changes made to City Hall. "We expect the project will be completed by the end of January, about two months ahead of schedule."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackisky@homernews.com.