City renovates Marble Palace by trying to unload some marble, among other things
August 15, 2013–Tim Schroer may be the deputy director of finance, but he’s just gotten off the phone with a guy about nameplates for the Municipal Building renovation, so that makes him something more.
“For a project this size, you need somebody in the building to make some of these decisions,” he says. “It’s not something [Administrator Fred Russell] would have the patience for, so I kind of told them it was something I was interested in and they said, ‘Tag — you’re it.’”
Admittedly he’s got a team of people who handle a lot of the smaller decisions before they even reach him, but Schroer has negotiated office moves in all but one of the places he’s worked, so in addition to his duties in the finance department, he’s also serving as the owner’s representative/construction administrator for the $40 million municipal building renovations and modernization project, which is actually further along than most people realize.
“We’re hauling stuff out now, and the steel for the tower should be going up hopefully soon,” he says.
Monday, the Public Services Committee voted to award Turner Construction Company a nearly $9.5 million chunk of money for the renovation, which should be completed in March 2015.
The award, which is considered the last of the pre-bids, dealt with several important items already in the budget. The funding of the building is a little confusing, since commissioners already voted to approve the $40 million, but according to Russell, the piece by piece voting allows commissioners to remain engaged with the project. A positive vote by the full commission on Tuesday will allow the project to continue, but a negative vote anywhere along with way could throw the entire ongoing renovation into a tailspin.
Along with the elevator tower, which will give the building a dramatic new look and orientation, the renovations will transform an old courtroom on the second floor into a new commission chamber and allow the city’s far-flung departments to consolidate into the Municipal Building, but not before a frustrating game of departmental musical chairs.
Over the weekend, Finance will move from the second floor into the former Magistrate Court on the seventh floor, but only for a year. Next July, it will move to its permanent home on the eighth floor, which is currently where the commission chamber and administrative offices are located.
However temporary, the office won’t necessarily feel temporary.
“The philosophy we’ve had through the entire build is that if you’re going to be moved into swing space for an extended period of time, you want it to be as nice as possible,” Schroer says.
As property manager for SPLOST capital projects, Heery International handles the Municipal Building renovations just as it handled the Convention Center, Judicial Center and the Sheriff’s Department among others. Actually, it was the opening of the $60 million Judicial Center in 2011 that freed up a considerable amount of space in the Municipal Building, which was built in the 1950s. It also left a lot of valuable stuff behind that Schroer is currently trying to unload.
“As the building is modernized, we’re trying to salvage what we can and see if somebody can repurpose it,” Schroer says.
That includes the very old wooden benches and chairs from the old courtroom, granite and marble panels and the three massive brass chandeliers Mayor Charles DeVaney installed in the commission chamber during the 1980s.
Schroer attempted to sell benches on the GovDeals website, but received a very tepid response.
“We thought some churches would love to get our benches, but apparently there’s a glut of church pews and benches on the market right now,” he says. “We got a couple of bids that were really low, so we pulled them off and decided we were either going to repurpose them somewhere else or try to do something with the demolition company. We’re trying to do this as cost effectively as possible, and it got to the point where some of the bids were so low that it would cost us more money in just having people here while the people came and took them out.”
As a government, Augusta is forced to auction its surplus property. It can’t just give it away, and besides — it wants to make as much money as it can.
“We have to do some kind of public auction, and the website GovDeals qualifies for that,” he says. “Unfortunately, we can’t just let the citizen come in and say, ‘Can I buy that chair?’ We have rules we have to follow, and it would be very ineffective to have citizens come up one or two at the time. We try to use the best use of resources that we have to make sure we have the biggest bang for the buck.”
Trickier than the benches are the marble panels that line the hallways and courtroom walls. Each of the four-foot square panels would be desirable (some even have inscriptions), but until they are removed, which will start once Schroer and his team move out of their offices this weekend, officials won’t know what condition they will be in.
“We’re either going to have a lot of granite for sale, or we’re going to have a bunch of little pieces,” he says. “Hopefully, it’s not a bunch of little pieces.”
Though there’s plenty of wood around, he knocks on marble, and it’s obvious the walls weren’t put up to be taken down.
While the Municipal Building has a reputation for being a cramped and drab working space, it remains an impressive building with some interesting features, including a fallout shelter in the basement (the stockpile of food has long since been cleared out) and several vaults.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the vaults,” Schroer says. “There are at least three that I know of on the second floor, and though the vault doors are cool, Turner Construction took one apart, and they’re filled with cement. I keep wondering how they’re going to get them out the windows or down the elevator.”
While Historic Augusta has shown an interest in documenting what the building was like before the renovation process, Schroer says it has not become involved in the renovations. The Augusta Museum, however, has taken several items for its collection, including one of the cell doors from the holding cells.
Less dramatic, though perhaps more interesting, are some old Murphy beds left over in the jury rooms. The beds, which pull down out of the wall to save space, were used during jury sequestration.
Rumor has it Finance Director Donna Williams remembers the woman who was in charge of the linens, and though the beds remain made up, they look far from inviting.
“Some of this stuff, I just don’t want to see ending up in the landfill,” Schroer says. “I’m a tree hugger from way back, but I also realize that if it’s going to increase my cost exponentially, something’s got to give.”
Whatever Schroer can’t sell at auction he might give to the company doing the demolition work to dispose of. Though the company should have more resources than the city at its disposal, it’s also going to want to split the profit.
“If that’s what we have to do, then that’s what we’ll do,” Schroer says. “Whatever we get is going to be a little bit of a bonus, but I don’t expect a whole lot. It’s one of those things where you think, ‘That’s really cool, but how practical is it?’ I don’t know too many people who need 20-foot benches.”
Or the big dais in the commission chamber. Though it looks impressive and has served as the nerve center of local government for decades, Schroer says moving it is impractical, not to mention unwarranted — and that’s not a political comment.
“If you ever looked behind it, you’d be amazed,” he says. “One of the goals of this renovation is to have this building last for another 50 years before we have to do something major to it.”
In spite of the upheaval and the extra work, Schroer says he’s enjoying the process.
“It’s a pretty cool building, and I’m really excited to be part of the renovation project,” he says. “It’s going to be exciting once we’re done.”