Ceremony symbolizes start of new city hall construction

Ceremony symbolizes start of new city hall construction
Members of the Vermillion City Council and of a special city hall committee that has worked diligently for the past four years each grabbed a shovel and overturned a small amount of dirt Monday afternoon near the south wall of the Vermillion City Hall.

The occasion marked the ending of one process, and the beginning of another. The studies, the countless committee meetings, the gathering of public input have ended.

Beginning Monday, the Vermillion community collectively noted that it is time to forge ahead and construct a new city hall building.

The scoops of black soil that aldermen and committee members tossed into the air were small, but they symbolized an incredibly large amount of effort undertaken by local citizens and the city council up to that moment.

Their efforts, accomplished through years of hard work, ended figuratively Monday at special ceremonies filled with speeches, instrumental music from the high school band, and a chorus of young voices from Austin Elementary's second-graders.

The city hall building that served as the backdrop for the day's groundbreaking ceremonies will soon be razed. In its place will rise a new $4.4 million municipal center that Mayor Dan Christopherson calls a legacy project for the city's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2009.

"I'm reminded today of a piece of history," said Ted Muenster, who served as master of ceremonies for the day's event. He pointed out the photos of three prior city halls that one time served as the home to local municipal government.

"I think most of us know that in 1881, there was a devastating flood on the Missouri River at the base of the bluff, where the city of Vermillion was then located," Muenster said. "The people of Vermillion said at that time that they weren't going to allow that disaster to destroy their fledgling community, which was founded in 1859.

"So they pulled and dragged all they could up the hill and re-established the city of Vermillion on the bluff away from the ravages of the river," he said.

Vermillion's first city was built in 1886, and was located at 15 East Main Street.

That pioneer spirit is still alive and well in the community as it plans to construct its new municipal center in time for the celebration of the city's 150th anniversary.

"This building behind us was built in 1915 as a power plant, and a few years later an addition was made to a portion of it and it was converted to a city hall," said Bob Fuller, one of the members of the city hall citizens' committee.

Even more additions were made to the building in the 1970s. City officials first began reviewing the condition of the aging structure in the 1990s.

"Numerous studies by a variety of community and city committees have repeatedly called for a new or refurbished city hall because this building was continuing to deteriorate," he said.

He noted that there were times when Vermillion citizens didn't agree on the proper course to take to solve this problem.

Approximately four years ago, the city council proposed the purchase of a bank building on Vermillion's Main Street, and refurbishing it into the community's new city hall.

Petitions were circulated calling for a public vote on this issue. That election failed in 2003.

Progress began to be made, however when the mayor and city council appointed a city hall citizens' committee in March 2004.

"After hiring an architectural firm, and after many, many meetings and public forums, that committee finished its work in August 2005," Fuller said, "and it made a recommendation to the city council that we build a new city hall."

In the fall of 2005, the city council appointed its own committee to study the issue, he said. Last March, it recommended the removal of the current city hall building and the construction of a new city hall in its place at 25 Center Street.

The new city hall will have a total area of nearly 32,000 square feet. The first step of construction, after the old city hall and some surrounding houses are razed, will be to dig the new building's 10,000 square foot basement.

The main floor will have a total area of approximately 14,780 square feet. The upper level of the new city hall will have a total area of 8,000 square feet.

The lower level will be unfinished, and used primarily for storage.

The main level will include space for staff functions, including space for offices that will house administration, engineering, building inspection, the finance office and customer service space.

Citizens will have the option of either using an elevator or climbing a grand staircase to access the second level, which will feature a lobby area, the city council meeting chambers, and two conference rooms.

After the old city hall building is torn down, new construction should begin in late October, and is scheduled to be complete in March 2009.

"What we are building here is more than just a city hall," Christopherson said. "We are building a municipal center. In fact, I would like us to begin referring to this as Vermillion Municipal Center because it's going to be much more than just Vermillion's city hall."

The new building, he said, will not only house offices of local government. "It will also offer several meeting rooms which can be used by the public for a variety of events, meetings, receptions, family gatherings, etc," he said.

Christopherson noted the contractor for the project is Peska Construction of Sioux Falls, submitted bids that came in approximately $3 million under the estimated cost of the building project.

"Also, the fact that this is a project that will be funded by the city's second penny sales tax revenues and not by property taxes is very favorable to our citizens.

"It is my wish that this new building will be used often by groups and members of the public for a variety events throughout the year," the mayor said. "After all, it will be your new municipal center as well as a sesquicentennial legacy project planned to last for generations to come."

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