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Historic Preservation Commission continues to object city building plans in historic district

Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013 8:53 PM
Last updated Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 1:40 PM
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Demolition of a Civil War-era building, the plasticine exterior of a new data center and a garage fronting Greene Street are unacceptable changes to the city government campus, members of Augusta’s Historic Preservation Commission said at a Wednesday work session.

The city plans to demolish an old Greek Revival brick building (center) that city officials previously reported was a synagogue annex.  SUSAN MCCORD/FILE
SUSAN MCCORD/FILE
The city plans to demolish an old Greek Revival brick building (center) that city officials previously reported was a synagogue annex.

The $40 million Municipal Building renovation plans, under development for several years, caught the board by surprise when a city application packet arrived for approval in late October, and the board has yet to approve them.

The plans include demolition of an old Greek Revival brick building, currently used as city IT offices, that Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery showed on an 1872 map, although Montgomery said it was likely built the decade before.

The building faces Telfair Street and sits adjacent to a historic synagogue not slated for demolition. Montgomery said the building was likely built as part of the old county courthouse government complex, not as a synagogue annex as city officials previously reported.

In a first meeting Wednesday with architects Virgo Gambill, board members questioned numerous components of the plan, including its shift of the Municipal Building front from Greene Street to Telfair and the inclusion of a 20,000 square-foot, $7 million nearly windowless IT addition that Montgomery said all observers have likened to a big-box store.

“We didn’t have any input,” noted board Chairman Jimmy Anderson.

While Telfair is a historic street, “there is no more of a Main Street in Augusta than Greene,” Montgomery said.

Board member Dave Barbee questioned why a garage door, for use by IT to service law enforcement vehicles, was included in the design facing Greene.

“It bothers me that we’ve got a pronounced garage on Greene Street,” he said. “It’s not fitting.”

Architect Joe Gambill said his firm and Heery International, which represents the city’s interests on the construction project, had examined various options, including making a narrower, three-story addition, and moving IT into the Municipal Building, but all were cost-prohibitive.

Plus, the city wants to build the IT building first, so IT staff can move in before the historic building is torn down for parking, Gambill said.

Historic Augusta trustee Tennent Houston said the group had been pleased with the appropriateness of several new city construction projects, including the new Richmond County Sheriff’s Office administration building and the library, while the reaction of many to the latest plans has been laughter.

“Why we want to key in one building (the IT addition) that does not fit in; I don’t understand,” Houston said.

Gambill said he’d take the group’s suggestions, including moving the garage door to a side road, avoiding large blank walls and sparing the historic building back to Heery and city officials.

While the preservation commission must OK all projects in historic districts, the Augusta Commission can overrule them.

The commission, meanwhile, has yet to secure funding for much of the project. About $14 million in existing sales tax dollars is available, but the rest awaits the commission’s decision to issue $26.5 million in bonds, to be serviced through the next SPLOST that voters have yet to approve.

City Administrator Fred Russell, who proposed designating all of downtown as a “slum” to issue tax-exempt bonds for the project, came under fire for that decision and commissioners recently voted to designate only the Greene Street 500 block and a few other select areas, but the bonds haven’t been issued.

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just an opinion
2918
Points
just an opinion 11/13/13 - 09:31 pm
3
0
Consulting fees?

How much is Butch Gallup "the community liason" charging us for his consulting fees regarding this? And we wonder why we can't balance the budget.

LuvMyTown
2009
Points
LuvMyTown 11/14/13 - 04:01 am
3
0
Charleston did a fabulous job adding to their municipal building

Perhaps Augusta's architect should pay that site a visit.
Thank you to the folks on the Historic Preservation Commission for working to make this a better project.

Little Lamb
48859
Points
Little Lamb 11/14/13 - 08:11 am
2
0
Retire

When Russell retires, he plans to move to North Augusta into one of those fancy riverside homes up on the fall line. He won't come into Augusta's downtown ever again; hence he doesn't care how ugly the IT headquarters looks.

dichotomy
37344
Points
dichotomy 11/14/13 - 11:06 am
2
1
I don't live, or visit,

I don't live, or visit, downtown if I can help it so I don't have a dog in this fight except for my tax money. I am continually amazed that people will spend good money to build new stuff and try to make it look old and out of date. They will also spend our money to make new stuff LESS USEABLE and inconvenient to satisfy a group of "old stuff" phobes that have the power to dictate to people what they can and cannot do to their private property and exert influence on what gets done to PUBLIC, taxpayer funded property. I guess Augusta’s Historic Preservation Commission came along too late to preserve all of those fine old outhouses we used to have.

Just because a building is old does not, in itself, make it historic. It just makes it old, expensive to maintain, and extremely expensive to renovate and "keep the look".

I'm sure that there are LOTS of taxpayers that would like to live in and near a city that has modern looking municipal facilities with modern architecture constructed with the latest efficient, less expensive, longer lasting building materials. I, for one, would like to see some modern architectural indication that Augusta is finally giving up the Civil War era and moving forward. Either that or put the outhouses back up and quit throwing my money away trying to bring back a city whose "prominent residents" are stuck in the late 19th, early 20th century.

When spending taxpayer money to build or renovate municipal facilities the primary concern should be building the MOST functional building at the LOWEST price possible in the MOST CONVENIENT place. We don't need you spending MORE MONEY to make it LESS FUNTIONAL or to make it look like it was built circa 1900.

We just tore down a historical marker because of one whiner. Apparently being old and factually accurate does not make something "historical" and the same goes of old buildings. Old is not "historical". Simply old, and like the marker, out of date and out of place at THIS time.

mike71345
75
Points
mike71345 11/14/13 - 06:42 pm
2
0
Georgia preservation law.

"§ 44-10-27. Certificate of appropriateness -- When required; local or state actions ...
(b) ... Local governments are exempt from the requirement of obtaining certificates of appropriateness; provided, however, that local governments shall notify the commission 45 days prior to beginning an undertaking that would otherwise require a certificate of appropriateness and allow the commission an opportunity to comment."

I mention this merely for the sake of clarity and efficiency in government.

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