New city hall nearly complete

Jeremy Nash

Renovations to the former SunTrust building, which is slated to become the new Lenoir City Hall, are nearly complete as city officials prepare for a moving date next month.

City Administrator Amber Scott said work inside the building is mostly finished.

Officials will still need to conduct a walk-through with contractor Wright Contracting Inc., before moving can take place, she said, noting that company and city personnel will likely meet next week. Moving could take place as early as Sept. 9.
“We’re going to do a weekend move because we want to be the least amount disruptive to the public as possible, so we’re getting close to that time,” Scott said. “Right now, everything is pretty much completed. We have to do a final walk-through with the contractor to ensure our satisfaction of the project. Just looking forward to it.”
Lenoir City Council approved pressure washing and a new coat of paint placed on the exterior of the building at the Aug. 8 city council meeting. Work is being done by Knoxville-based Riverbend Power Cleaning for $14,800.
Scott said the pressure washing has since been completed and a focus has now been placed on painting.
“They’re currently painting, and that’s quite a process because we’ve had to rent a high lift,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of area to cover there, and high up as well, but I was surprised just how well the building looked just after being power washed. I think I was by there last week, and it made a complete difference in my opinion.”
The new city hall will have additional parking spots on the side and front of the building. During last week’s city council meeting, Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve Harrelson said Greenback Asphalt Company was the lowest bidder on four quotes submitted at $20,985.
“I think it’s going to be great for the public to see that and for them to have a nice place to come, something for the community to be proud of,” Scott said. “As you know, we’ve currently outgrown our space here. City hall’s been in this building since 1988. Before that time we were housed in the old Lenoir City Utilities Board building down here. They were really squeezed into the LCUB building and then moved here in ‘88. There’s going to be better security at the new place. There’s going to be a larger courtroom, council chambers than what we have now.”
Additional space will allow for all departments to be under one roof, and a new courtroom will add about 30 percent more space than the current location off Broadway Street, Scott said.
“I guess the best thing that I think is going to be an improvement to what we’ve been doing is that we’re going to be able to start having a better court system and going to have at least three days of court where we’ve only had one in the past,” Councilman Eddie Simpson said. “We do have now the room and the facilities to be able to bring the prisoners in and be able to keep them occupied and isolated and be able to go on with the courts without everybody sitting in there all of them together, all the prisoners in one area, the holding cells inside the courtroom.
“And we want to try to at some point to start trying all the drunk driving cases, maybe even some civil issues and stuff like that and help take some of the load off (the) county court system, and we’ll handle some of our own,” he added.
Simpson said that overall, the final tab for the city hall project could cost about $1.7 million, which is significantly lower than what city council considered for a new building at $6-$7 million.
“We’ve contemplated several times to construct a new building and when we found that this SunTrust building was going to become available we thought it was a win-win situation to do that and renovate it,” Simpson said. “We were successful in being able to do that and buy it for a rather good price, which was $700,000, and over the last two years we’ve been able to negotiate and get SunTrust out and get them in a new building, put them back on the tax roll, and a really nice facility they built.”
Hopes are to place an aquarium inside for residents sometime in the future, Simpson said.
“That’s my goal to try to push for that,” Simpson said. “I just think it’d be something really good to look at. I’m not talking huge, I’m just talking about maybe a 2 foot by 4 foot or 2 foot by 6 foot, something sitting on top of one of the counters.”
Officials say nothing has been decided on what will be done with the current location.
“I’d like to see someone interested in it take it because it’s got a vault in it. It’s got a downstairs,” Vice Mayor Jim Shields said. “It could be used for something, and the city may want to use it and hang on to it and use it for something else. They’ve looked into that also. I don’t know if maybe they decide — everybody decides just to hang on to it and use it for city purposes for some other department or something in the future.
“Right now we’re just trying to get this other one up and going and working and hopefully we can decide what we want to do with the older building, either keep it for a different department or something or release it or sell it,” he added.