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Suwanee wants input on City Hall proposals

SUWANEE - Suwanee officials want the public's opinion about the design, features and parking shown in the substantially diverse renderings of the city's proposed City Hall. The drawings have been on display since mid-week, and turn out has been good so far.

Three drawings will be exhibited in council chambers at 373 Buford Highway through the end of July.

"We've had a good flow of people come through to look at them," said Sonya Jones, receptionist.

City Council members will vote Aug. 3 to choose one of the three participating design firms to draw final plans for the 20,000 square foot facility. A selection committee that includes city staff, council members and architectural and construction professionals will recommend one of the firms. But the City Council has the final choice.

Planners decided early to hold a design competition to gather as many creative sources as possible, and to galvanize citizens' interest. Initially, 18 architectural firms expressed interest in the project. Ten submitted ideas and six were picked for interviews. All non-winning firms will earn $6,500.

The three finalists submitted drawings vastly different from their competitors - an ultra-contemporary three-story structure, a two-story historically inspired rendition and a sprawling one-story building.

"We did not give them any guidance in terms of style, said Kristi McCarley, special projects manager. "We gave them very basic guidelines, like square footage and our $5.8 million budget. The design had to allow room for expansion over the years and had to work with the established style of Town Center. The whole point of the competition was to let their creativity come into it."

Designers at BRPH studied Suwanee's history as a railroad town. They submitted a design vaguely resembling a two-story train depot. The building's glass-fronted, north-facing facade is topped by an arched roof that mirrors the stage at Town Center Park. A 95-foot tall clock tower rises taller than any other nearby structure. Plans show colored marble panels, underground and surface parking and a second-floor, glass-enclosed council chambers.

BRPH's past projects include Fulton County's Northview High School, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex, Brevard County Zoo and Melbourne International Airport.

"I liked the underground parking," said David Pierce, a long-time resident. "Parking is always a problem at special events. I like what they've already built there, and the curved top seems to fit in with the other buildings."

Rosser International offers a contemporary, 21st century-style rendering composed of strong squares and rectangles. A glass-fronted, three-story atrium runs through the building's center. It's topped by a slanted metal roof held up by wooden timbers that form a covered patio. Patrons will park on the ground level outdoors.

Rosser's architects designed the Arena at Gwinnett Center, Turner Field, the Georgia Dome and the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

Pierce didn't care much for the modern design.

"I didn't like the contemporary one at all," he said. "It didn't live up to the architectural standards of the area. It's too modern and that atrium looked like a waste of space."

Larry Ginn, a Suwanee engineer unconnected to the project, had other ideas.

"I'm not sure it fit in with what Suwanee is already doing there," Ginn said. "It looked like it had an efficient use of space and a nice central plaza. Although the building was split in two, it looked like it flowed well."

The Sizemore Group submitted a distinctive one-story creation, fronted by a wall of windows like the other two. Its domed roof is balanced by peaked roof spaces on each side. The design utilizes street parking, and a rear terrace and courtyard complete the outdoor ambiance Suwanee is cultivating. A glass-enclosed council chambers is located•the front of the building.

The Sizemore Group has worked on buildings at Clark Atlanta, Emory and the Gwinnett University Center, as well as Smyrna City Hall, Duluth Festival Center and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of

Commerce.

The prominent council chambers got Ginns' attention.

"It has all city business out front, rather than tucked in back like a lot of city halls," he said. "Everyone talks about open government. The building has a real presence. However, everything was all split up- all the departments were so far removed from each other."

Pierce agreed that council chambers should be on the first floor.

"It's more accessible to people who aren't familiar with the building," he said.

Even so, Pierce wasn't very impressed with any of the proposed plans.

"I wasn't crazy about any of them," he said. "I don't like a lot of glass. The heating and cooling doesn't seem economical."

Suwanee reserves the rights to all plans submitted, so city officials can borrow ideas from all plans, if needed.

Earlier, Suwanee hired Urban Collage, the same firm that helped design Suwanee's Old Town Master Plan in 2001, to do a needs analysis. The current 11,000 square-foot City Hall has housed both city staff and the Police Department since 1997. A laundry room in the former jail serves as an office, and the City Hall project manager, works on a laptop at the former coffee station in the lobby.

"City staff is split between City Hall and the Crossroads Center," said Mayor Nick Masino. "That hinders teamwork, and causes a need for more fax machines, more copiers."

When the new City Hall is completed in December 2008, the police department will expand into the rest of the building. The public works department, that occupies the back third of the fire station, will move into another building off site. The police department will use its vacated space at the fire station for storage.

A stand of trees marks the site where construction will begin September 2007.

Suwanee recently sold the 7.25 acres on which buildings one and two stand at Town Center Park. That sale paid off the $1.4 million bond used to purchase the property, and gave the city a $2 million profit. That $2 million will be used as a down payment on the new City Hall. Suwanee will borrow the rest of the money, believing the millage rate is sufficient to cover the payments. Meanwhile, Suwanee is saving the cash amount the city had been using to pay the bonds. It will go toward the budgeted $5.8 million.

"It sounds like they did a good job of thinking about where the money will come from," Ginn said. "That's always important."