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Renovation Options Show New Lansdale Municipal Complex

Lansdale Borough Council last week saw four concept diagrams for improvements to its municipal complex —borough hall and the police station — following a facilities report last summer that revealed both buildings are in poor condition

Major repairs and upgrades are needed for Lansdale Borough Hall and Lansdale Police headquarters, and Lansdale Council must soon make a decision — Should they stay or should they go?

A facilities study last summer by Spiezle Architects revealed that Lansdale Borough Hall and the police station are two of four borough-owned properties in very poor condition. The others being the third floor of 421 W. Main Street and the parks maintenance building. Lansdale Borough Hall and the police station were last renovated 24 years ago and 50 years ago, respectively. The former was a post office and the latter was a library.

With the buildings now part of a 7-year capital improvement list, council must decide on one of four renovation alternatives presented to them as concept diagrams last Wednesday night by Scott Malin of Spiezle Architects.

Administration and Finance Committee is expected to begin talks on one of the alternatives by mid-February.

The Poor Conditions of Two Municipal Properties

Two of the options recommended to demolish borough hall and the police station after constructing a brand-new complex that houses both entities.

These options also recommended vacating Railroad Avenue and turning it into a pedestrian route or park.

"The goal is making the borough more walkable," said borough Manager Timi Kirchner, "and it makes the light at Vine and Railroad Avenue much less complicated."

The other two options included adding onto the two buildings and constructing a new police station and repairing the interior of borough hall.

The idea is to have a synergy of police and administration working together, Malin said.

Malin described Lansdale Police headquarters as a building that does not work as a police station.

"It has an enormous list of problems," Malin said.

These problems include space issues, poor environmental conditions, safety concerns and infestations.

The exterior sally port, he said, is not secure. Almost all of the 30 spaces inside the station need improvements.

"Victims and perpetrators are in the same hallways. It's not laid out property to separate various groups in the building," he said.

Space is inadequate at the police station, he said. The same space is used for 10 different functions, he said. One room acts as the dispatch room, the cafeteria, training room and the report-writing room.

"Cleaning your gun on the table where you eat your lunch at is not ideal," Malin said.

Malin said the former library "should have never been a police station."

"It's not appropriately-designed to be a police station," he said.

All in all, the 8,400-square-foot police station needs to be 77 percent bigger, at about 14,800 square feet.

Estimated cost for mechanical improvements inside the station is $1.3 million. Malin said that figure will not fix the size or space issues of the building.

Lansdale Borough Hall has attractive features and things "to make people think the building looks OK," Malin said.

Borough hall suffers from many foibles: Failed masonry walls, cracked walls from the freeze-thaw cycle and the need for repointing are just a few of them.

Since it is an old post office, borough hall has the original, uninsulated and outdated walls. Durability problems come into play.

There is swelling and cracking of sidewalks. Masonry walls are coming apart and cracking. The existing walls don't resist moisture.

The cupola is deteriorating, and flashing has disappeared from exterior corners. The roof itself has various building materials meeting at different points: It goes from shingles to flat roof to masonry stone in some spots.

"There is decay in the building envelope that is very difficult to fix," Malin said. 

Mildew, mold and water intake plague the building. Borough staff must cover its desks, electronics and furniture with tarps to protect its assets during a heavy rainstorm.

It is not fully American Disabilities Act compliant: There is no elevator to the second floor.

"Even if you renovate and fix it, there are parts of the building still over 50 years old," Malin said. "Aged components carry a risk for long-term costs."

To mix old components with new ones is spending good money after bad, he said. The layout of the building contributes to most of the issues, he said.

Furthermore, the lobby of borough hall offers no privacy for those paying bills in at a 5-foot-high window tucked into the back of the space. There is a lack of a good sitting area and the entryway is an unusable shape.

"There is a poor response to digital technologies," Malin said.

All in all, estimated cost of just interior mechanical repairs is $1.9 million, and does not fix any layout or space issues. The 15,839-square-foot borough hall needs to be 18,009 square feet.

Four Concepts

Spiezle's four concept diagrams were given an overall score upon evaluation for layout, relationship/synergy and phasing. A comparative construction cost was also estimated for each diagram.

Option #1 expanded each building in place, with a distinct meeting room area. Malin said there would be a lot of phasing issues, as construction would put a serious impact on the operations of the building. Space between each building would be made into parking: two lanes of traffic with four lanes of parking.

Option #1 had a score of 55/100 and an estimated price tag of $6.63 million.

Option #2 would keep an existing, but renovated, borough hall and attach a new one-story police station. Malin said borough staff and parking would need to be relocated. The renovation of the interior of borough hall would not fix spatial issues.

"The new addition would not overlap the placement of the existing police station," Malin said. "It would stay in operation while we build, so not to interfere with the police side."

Once completed, the old police station would be demolished and parking would be paved at the southwest corner of the property. A new lobby space and entryway would be constructed, with a distinct meeting room in the middle of the complex.

"We could front Railroad Avenue and make it a pedestrian plaza," Malin said. "It can be a gathering space and have outdoor use."

Spiezle scored Option #2 at 75/100, with an estimated price tag of $7.2 million.

Option #3 would construct an all new two-story building for police and administration; it can be built on the site in a way so it does not touch the two existing buildings. Malin said this would not affect borough operations, but it could be better by a temporary relocation.

Railroad Avenue would be vacated and used only as a one-way entrance into the complex from Main Street. The end of Railroad Avenue at Broad Street would be a park area, possibly with some "ruins" of borough hall and other site elements.

In the new building, police would occupy the first floor and borough administration would be on the second floor. The building would also have a central meeting room, lobby space and entryway.

"This is as close to an ideal layout as possible," Malin said, adding that new buildings could be green buildings. "Efficiency and sustainable design could be a factor here."

Option #3 was given a score of 95/100, with an estimated cost of $8.26 million.

Malin said, when comparing Option #3 to the first two, it is "not that much more money to get a new facility and start over."

Option #4 would call for the relocation of borough staff, as a new building would be built over the existing footprint of borough hall. A new police station would be attached to it, and then the existing police station demolished and new parking paved in that area.

"There is more opportunity to change its shape," Malin said. "You could save parts of its existing facade if you wanted to. You can build half of it new, move to the new part and demolish the old building."

Option #4 was given a score of 93/100, with an estimated cost of $8.51 million.

Finance Director Brian Shapiro said there are about $30 million worth of projects on the capital improvement list. There is about $20.9 million cash-on-hand in the capital reserve fund, which includes the $10 million bond borrowing this year.

"Council must decide how to manage the reserves," Shapiro said.

Malin said it could take two years before occupancy in either Option #3 or Option #4, and that includes development of a design, bidding and construction.

"If there are no phases, it could take about 15, 16 months to do a new building," he said.

Resident Response

One resident — Joe Cionzynski — said the borough should have considered the Madison parking lot as the site for a new police station and borough hall.

"We had several acres of property on Madison worth several million that the parking authority gave away to one of the wealthiest commercial property developers on the planet," Cionzynski said. "We gave it away for $1. It would have been a good location to start with a new building. In hindsight, giving it away for $1 wasn't that great of an idea."

Councilman Dan Dunigan, who chairs the administration and finance committee, said Cionzynski's statement was not accurate. He said what occurred was a nominal value transaction. In return, the developer will provide the borough with a modern parking structure, which has an average cost of $20,000 per space.

"We could, as a parking authority, simply build that structure on that space, and we'd have to contract for it, we'd have to concern ourselves with all the vagaries that go on with a rather large construction project," Dunigan said. "That would not solve the dilemma of trying to redevelop that for its highest and best use. It'd simply be additional parking."

Dunigan said it is the most ideal version of a public-private partnership.

"We convey to them, at a nominal cost, the property because it would make the deal untenable for them," he said. "If that property was truly worth millions of dollars, as soon as we talked about this transaction, there would have been people lined up trying to pay millions of dollars. That didn't happen."

Dunigan said retaining Madison lot and turning it into a municipal complex would impact every business on Main Street and every SEPTA commuter.

"If we simply move borough hall over there, everybody would lose all 200 parking spaces for two years because we couldn't negotiate the phasing with our own building. Then, we tell them their downtown borough business needs to park over here. It's not practical," he said.

Pat January 21, 2013 at 04:24 PM
Totally agree! That building would be more at home in North Korea.
patchifier January 23, 2013 at 02:38 AM
I feel for your old building woes, but borough hall should really be saved at all costs. Even if it's just keeping the shell around as an open space - maybe an atrium or display area since it has those great windows. The brick can be repointed, the masonry walls supplemented with new structure, the roof replaced, cupola fixed, insides gutted, but just don't tear it down. On the other hand, I'm all for turning Railroad Ave into a pedestrian/access street.
RMFC January 23, 2013 at 12:46 PM
I agree, don't tear down another beautiful old building in Lansdale. There's no reason why all those things that need to be repaired, can't be done. Fix what is deteriorating and bring it back to it's orginal glory. New is not always better.
Augustine Auch February 19, 2013 at 10:35 PM
All about option 3! Get rid of that old antiquated building.
Sherrianne Rocchino February 20, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Keep the current Borough Hall, vote out borough council. Borough council needs to drive to surrounding communities, like North Wales, Harleysville, Ambler, Sellersville and see what a real classic town is, they don't destroy their history, they preserve it. Lansdale could learn a lesson from them all. I agree with "patchifier", there are other options, if bourgh council were doing their job, they would look into them.

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