Quake fears prompt redo
January 6, 2007
City Hall staffers do not worry about the building collapsing around them when they show up to work each day.
But the building, a historic structure perched over Swede Alley, was not built to withstand an earthquake and officials are planning to start a major upgrade to City Hall, frequently called the Marsac Building, later in 2007. It will likely be the most significant project undertaken this year by the city government.
The work, officials say, will be expansive. Making it safer during an earthquake is the desire but the project will likely also make City Hall more accessible to the disabled and turn the building into a more modern place for staffers and Parkites who have dealings with the government.
"We will be shut down. The city’s building inspector will condemn the building if we’re not out this year," Mayor Dana Williams says about the prospects of delaying the improvements.
Ron Ivie, the city’s chief building official, who is responsible for ensuring private-sector buildings and public facilities like City Hall are safe, is devising plans for the redo.
The building, which dates to 1936 and was put up as a New Deal project, was a schoolhouse until 1979 before being turned into the government’s offices, in 1983. Ivie says it was built with bricks and steel but lacks internal reinforcements. The city plans to rebuild with concrete reinforced with steel bars on the inside. Bricks would then be reattached to the exterior.
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The city wants to make the building resistant to earthquakes, a concern in northern Utah, where smaller temblors occur frequently and geologists fear a larger quake. Ivie says City Hall is the only major public building in Park City that has not been upgraded to what he describes as acceptable earthquake standards.
"A tremor isn’t going to take this down. It will take an earthquake to bring this down," he says, adding that he expects that City Hall would "fail . . . would collapse" in a significant quake.
Ivie, who in the 1990s suggested that City Hall was not safe from an earthquake, says the building would likely collapse during an earthquake measuring at least 5.0 on the Richter scale.
"It’s a matter of playing odds," Ivie says about the chances of an earthquake bringing down the building if it is not improved. "That’s why I want it fixed. It’s not appropriate to play odds."
Ivie plans to approach Williams and the City Council for funding during budget discussions scheduled in the spring and early summer. He says the work will probably cost about $6 million. He wants to start in October and he expects that the work will take eight or nine months.
In that time, staffers will move out of City Hall and take up temporary quarters. Those plans have not been finalized but they could involve shifting staffers to unused office space in other City Hall-owned buildings, renting space or erecting temporary trailers, similar to those the Park City High School is using as the school is remodeled.
"This building will be vacant with the exception of the contractor and their crews," Ivie says. "You can’t live in a room when you tear the walls out outside."
The Police Department’s new headquarters, under construction off S.R. 224 near Snow Creek, is scheduled to be complete by the start of the redo, meaning that the police, which now occupy space at City Hall, will have moved into the new building before the work starts.
Meanwhile, the planned upgrades, including installing air conditioning, would make City Hall a more pleasant building and one that is easier for the disabled to navigate.
Ivie says the city plans to install a new electrical system and new plumbing. The building will more efficiently use energy afterward, he says, a goal of Park City officials to make the community less stressful on the environment.
He says the plans include installing an elevator serving each floor. He says the elevator’s location has not been decided but it will probably be built on the west side of the building, the side that faces Old Town.
Stairs will be installed, probably on the north side of the building, he says. The stairs would replace ramps on the north and south sides.
"The ramps are way too steep for accessibility," he says, noting that an elevator would be easier for people in wheelchairs.
The City Hall improvements will be the latest in a line of major projects undertaken by the local government, costing millions since the late 1990s. City Hall has enjoyed the financial benefits of a booming economy and has been successful in securing federal grants.
The China Bridge garage expansion, the Public Works Building and the Old Town transit center are among the largest projects in the last decade. The government plans to build a town plaza on Swede Alley as well.
Ivie says the government researched whether it would be smarter to build a new municipal building instead but opted to renovate City Hall, a more expensive prospect. He says the city wants to preserve the building’s history by redoing it instead of demolishing City Hall.
"Renovation does cost more," he says. "Saving the historic fabric does cost more."