DUNEDIN — When officials began imagining a new city hall in 2000, early priorities were to provide a range of government services in a consolidated space with high customer service.
That is still the goal. But 21 years, countless concepts and one global health crisis later, Dunedin is preparing to break ground on a 38,463-square foot government center that combines community fellowship with the new normal expected to follow the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dunedin City Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve a $20 million bid from Tampa-based Manhattan Construction Company to build a City Hall with municipal and technical services at 727 Louden Ave. and a surface parking lot on an adjacent parcel.
The project, expected to break ground in May on the site of the former municipal services building, has a proposed lifespan of 100 years, with solar power generation, electric vehicle charging stations and multi-purpose spaces for community use.
Over the last two decades, the city has prioritized replacing public safety and quality of life facilities like fire stations and recreation centers. That left employees in City Hall and the municipal and technology services buildings to work in deteriorating structures, plagued by leaks, mold and outdated spaces.
Municipal and technology services employees have also been scattered at temporary work sites since Fall 2019, when the two government buildings were demolished. The current 1960s-era City Hall on Main Street could undergo adaptive reuse.
“It’s time,” said commissioner Maureen Freaney, who recalled how the government buildings were obsolete even 20 years ago when she worked as assistant city manager. “It’s time, it’s set, the ball is on the tee, it’s a critical step for the future of our employees who gave up hope — and tonight there’s hope.”
In January, Harvard Jolly Architecture incorporated COVID-19 influenced elements into the design, including individual offices and partitions for social distancing, automatic doors and elevators, and copper alloy surfaces that have been proven to be inhospitable to the virus. Not only will the HVAC system have 99.9 percent filtration, the building will include a bipolar ionization system that uses an electronic charge to create a plasma field of positive and negative ions so particles can easily be caught by the filter.
The lessons learned from the past year of remote meetings and working from home have also influenced the new building. While teleworking will be used as a perk and an option for safety needs, staff determined its employees work best when able to collaborate and interact with each other and residents directly in the office, said human resources director Theresa Smalling.
The building size was designed to accommodate all 82 employees whose jobs are based in government buildings.
“Because of the need of government and the need of residents still that want to see their government at work, it just isn’t good to be 100 percent teleworking,” Smalling said.
Of the $23.8 million total cost of the project, $17.8 million will be covered by revenue from the Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax, according to finance director Les Tyler. The remainder will be covered by the city’s building, utility and community redevelopment agency funds.
The city will issue debt financing for $22.8 million to cover construction up front, since money from the Penny for Pinellas and utility funds will be coming over the next 10 years. But Tyler said the loan will be paid off by 2029.
The unanimous approval of City Hall followed years of intense community input, including 17 meetings over the past three years, and debate on the campaign trail. Before his election in November, then-candidate John Tornga opposed the project, citing his concerns about the reliance on the Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax fund that he feared could bring less revenue than projected.
But on Wednesday, as a commissioner, Tornga said he was comfortable that the project was financially feasible and that he’s “sure that we would not be looking for any tax increases on this.”
“There’s some wishes, but I’m going to move right along on that,” Tornga said.
The project also received a blessing from the board of finance and the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce.
“This building has just seen its days,” chamber president Pamela Pravetz said, while standing in City Hall. “Our lovely town deserves a little bit better government building.”