Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Next Step for Proposal to Move Easton's City Hall Goes Before City Council Tonight

By Christina Georgiou

Click on any image for a better view.

The proposal to move City Hall down the street to the planned intermodal complex, which will also house a new LANTA bus terminal and the National High School Sports Hall of Fame, along with a subsequent sale of the Alpha Building is on the agenda for this evening's city council meeting.

Easton's Historic District Commission (HDC) brought the plan one step closer to being a reality after it approved the footprint and general concept plan for the new intermodal complex on South Third Street at their meeting Monday evening, adding that some revision to the exterior aesthetic plan for the building should take place before the project comes before the board again next month for general approval of construction.

The HDC called for the changes after some board members and Easton resident and Lafayette College professor of architecture Paul Felder opined that the building lacks an indication of "civic character" and doesn't seem to fit with the surrounding architectural feel of the city.

"Neither the architects nor this board knows whether they are reviewing a bus terminal or Easton City Hall," Felder said, adding that Easton's city hall will be and should look important.

Felder urged officials to take their time to consider the plans and construction.

"I'd urge (everyone) not to get caught up with deadlines," Felder said. "That's the way politicians keep control. They say, 'We need to do this.'"

Mayor Sal Panto has said the project needs to be fast-tracked to ensure a slot this spring and summer with contractors who will pour the concrete foundations and slabs for the new construction.

Felder compared the changes in planned use without a major change in the building's design to someone wanting a very large house and then deciding they didn't need all that space and subsequently converting some of the plan to accomodate a convenience store and a bowling alley.

"I do believe there is such a thing as civic architecture in the 21st century, and this isn't it," he said.

HDC member William Dohe said the building front on South Third Street could be better designed to work with the rest of the surrounding architecture.

"(A building) is like a piece of music. There are breaks in the song. I wonder if you've considered that," he said.

HDC consultant Christine Uhler suggested potential changes to the building plan might not have to be major to make it work better.

"It could be very simple, whatever it is that could be tweaked," she said.

But city officials didn't agree the building's style is inappropriate.

City Planning Director Becky Bradley said the plan includes regionally-source materials and is designed to be pleasing both at the close-up street level and as a whole from a distance.

"We're looking at a sort of graduated rustication," she said, noting that polished granite will form the base near the ground level and a concrete composite stone above. "We're looking at the post office and the Simon Mansion when it comes to color."

"I love my old home, but I also love modern architecture. I love the Sigal building," Panto said. "(The current city hall) isn't City Hall, this is the Alpha Building."

He added, "The deadlines are not what drove the architecture. But there will not be enough parking this summer (if the plan isn't approved). If you can approve the plan, we can move this forward."

Cost is also a factor in the city's push to move the project forward quickly, the mayor told HDC members.

"The project is up to $26 million. This project is revenue neutral. If it goes up any higher, it won't be," Panto said. "We're not going to build the Taj Mahal. We're going to build something we can maintain."

While a public presentation of the financial side of moving Easton's municipal offices to the intermodal complex has not yet happened, it is expected at this evening's city council meeting before the council votes on whether to authorize administrators to seek proposals for the sale of the Alpha Building and to proceed with the construction of a  "City Hall/Transportation Facility".

The council meeting, which includes public input, is at 6 p.m. tonight in city council chambers on the sixth floor of the current city hall, the Alpha Building, located at 1 South Third St.

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