Thursday, February 8, 2024

Council Recap: City Hall and Library

Source: City of Richardson

The Richardson City Council held a worksession February 5, 2024, to receive an update on the new City Hall and Library projects. The schematic design of City Hall is now complete and design development is beginning. There are enough details for the City Council and the public to have a good idea of what our new City Hall will look like. The new Library is farther along, with construction to begin in March, 2024.

Site Design

The update began with a presentation of a revised site plan. You may remember that the drive through Fountain Plaza in the original plan was rejected by the Council. It's nowhere to be seen in the updated site plan. Good. Five more changes were identified to the site plan, although I can't see what's different for two of them.

One change is that there's now a second entrance along Belle Grove Dr south of the Library, but it's not a straight shot up to the Library like I suggested (and like the other Belle Grove entrance is a straight shot up to City Hall), but instead is a dog leg that connects to an internal drive. There was no explanation for this baffling design detail.

Another change was described as "Traffic calming with removable bollards" on the central drive that cuts off the Plaza from the Green. Traffic calming is only needed if the street grid is already in place and traffic is a problem. If the street grid is new, like this one is, you can design it so "calming" is naturally part of the street grid. I suggested that center drive from the Library to City Hall be shifted to the south side of the Green, thus "calming" traffic and, better yet, allowing a connected, contiguous, grand plaza/green. Instead, "What we're proposing is that...when we do want to engage the plaza north and south halves that we can restrict access through that center drive and make it safe for whatever it is we want to have for an event or an activity." Councilmember Ken Hutchenrider pointed out that "that row of trees [along the center drive is] really disconnecting." Damn right it is. The whole center drive is disconnecting. Bollards and pillows don't solve that problem and, worse, create a new problem. When activities require putting the bollards in place, presumably traffic will be at a peak, and you'll need that center drive to relieve traffic congestion. Put it south of the Green, allowing it to be kept open during peak activities. Instead, what could have been a grand public space is carved up into two smaller, less useful public spaces, and we create a center drive "problem" that has to be "solved" with bollards. Hutchenrider put his finger on a design flaw, but he didn't drive home the point by asking for a design change. He meekly accepted bollards as if the problem with the design was merely a safety concern.

A third change was the creation of a small green space south of City Hall for an "electioneering area." That's an excellent addition. It could also serve as an employee smoking area, I suppose, if the law still permits smoking anywhere on campus. Or not. Smoking is gross.

City Hall

The presentation included views of the exterior design of City Hall from the southwest, northwest, and southeast. I'd like to have seen a view from the Library. My guess is the City Hall will look fortress-like from Fountain Plaza, but the rest of the views are more than acceptable to me.

I don't know if the architecture is technically Brutalist, but it's close enough for my liking. The Library is Brutalist. The Library updates planned will soften that a little, especially the third floor. I consider it important that City Hall have a compatible style.

There's no obvious side that's the back of City Hall. In other words, none of the views showed dumpsters or other utility boxes. That's probably just a defect in the drawings. "We'll have a lot of equipment, a generator and some of the other equipment that's not really showing here. We're still developing all of these." I hope I'll still like the building once those are developed.

The City Council had a lot of comments, but little that I noted that will change the outcome of the project.

Councilmember Dan Barrios asked that solar panel options and costs be brought back to City Council for decision.

Councilmember Curtis Dorian asked if the City is going to pursue LEED certification. Dorian didn't ask for it, only whether the City plans to apply. The answer was, "LEED certification is not something we have decided to pursue up to this point" followed by fast talk about "LEED-light" and bypassing LEED to "focus our efforts on things that are going to provide the best return on investment." It'll be hard to brag about the City of Richardson's commitment to good environmental practices if we build a new City Hall that doesn't conform to the world's most widely used standard for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green building design. Dorian was so close to fixing a big problem if he had insisted on something I know he cares about (why else would he ask about it) only to meekly surrender by responding to this disappointing answer with just, "Anyway, thank you." He won't live up to his potential until he learns to wield the power he now has.

Councilmember Jennifer Justice asked that the City research grants and other funding sources. She said, "Find somebody else's money."

Mayor Pro Tem Arefin Shamsul talked about his dream of having an underground garage. I heard no one support him, or anyone with the City holding out hope of ever getting that, now or in the future. As long as space is available for surface parking, it makes no economic sense to build a parking garage. My advice to Arefin is to identify the need for another City building for that site to go where that surface parking is. Eventually, you'll get that garage.

The materials to be used on the exterior walls are not yet decided. "We're intentionally trying to be very nebulous or non committal about what the exterior materials will be at this moment." Why? Dunno. Probably cost.

The presentation included fairly detailed schematics of the interior floorplan. I'm not going to say much about it. It looks fine to me. See for yourselves. The Council also acted as if they were fine with the schematics, too. No one said anything that I took as a call for change.

On the important budget questions, the update said the size of the building has grown from 96,000 sq ft to 100,000 sq ft, the popular "stepped" option for the three floors is more expensive, and the "desire for glass and stone and sustainability features" all are putting pressure on the budget. The total project cost has grown from $85 million to $91 million, but that includes $6 million from the Tenant Improvement Allowance and Insurance Proceeds. I didn't quite follow all the ramifications of this, but it sounded like there were various ways to keep the project within budget without having to scale back the design.

The existing City Hall is scheduled for demolition in May, 2024. The next Council update is planned for Summer, 2024.


The City Council spent two hours on the Comprehensive Plan, one hour on the City Hall project, and ten minutes on the Library project. In part that was due to the latter items being farther along in the planning and execution phases. No doubt it was also due somewhat to exhaustion.

The Library project is much farther along. Construction documents have been completed and bidding and negotiation are underway. The total project costs remain at $48.1 million. Interior demolition has begun. Construction is expected to start in March, 2024.

Mayor Bob Dubey ended the discussion by saying, "Awesome. Okay. Thank you. All right. That brings us to Item G Report on items of community interest." That was the only thing the Mayor said during the whole City Hall and Library Project updates. He then talked for nine and half minutes on his own items of community interest. We know he can talk when it involves giving out attaboys. I just wish he'd expend at least as many words sharing his ideas for the future of Richardson's City Hall and Library.

"City Hall progress,
Schematic design takes shape,
Plaza split and lost."

—h/t ChatGPT

1 comment:

Mark Baustian said...

Good summary! Let's press Mr. Dorian to request the LEED certification. Thanks!!!