A group of work boot-clad contractors gathered at the old Florida town hall and DPW garage Monday morning to bicker in the cold morning air.
“You could just shoot the studs right into the existing wall,” said one fellow in battered jeans and an old sweatshirt.
“That would work if you didn’t mind the whole thing sagging,” said Hadi Ipek, one of the more vocal contractors. “There needs to be some kind of steel support.”
They didn’t gather just to make good-natured digs at each other. Monday’s meeting was part of the bidding process for a substantial renovation set to begin on the old concrete structure as soon as it’s warm enough to get to work.
The official Town Hall is actually a larger, newer building just north of the old one on Fort Hunter Road, but the old structure still sees a lot of use. The Highway Department and Department of Public Works use the back garage, the Fort Hunter Library occupies a small addition and the main hall itself houses everything from farmers markets to weddings.
“It’s a very important events center for the area,” said Frank Gilmore, the architect and designer of the project.
The old building hasn’t outlived its usefulness, but it definitely is showing its age. The walls are built of hand-mixed concrete cast on site in the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA. Up close, wood grain left by casting molds is clearly visible. Those blocks are still solid, but 80 years of wind and rain did a number on the mortar.
“See there?” said Highway Superintendent Bill Weller, pointing to interior paint cracks and water damage surrounding a handful of blocks. “The water comes through there. It’s just old.”
To fix the leaking and improve heating efficiency and cosmetic appeal, town officials are looking to sheath the building in EIFS. Contractor, Jim Griffin took a moment to explain that EIFS stands for Exterior Insulation and Finishing System.
“It’s foam insulation sheeting covered in a layer of cement,” he said as the others asked Gilmore questions about sills and roof treatments. “The sheeting is mounted to a steel framework. They’re basically going to bury the original walls.”
The town is hoping to envelope the building and replace about 15 windows for between $225,000 and $250,000, “which seems a little low to me,” said Walter Vivenzio, a snappy red-haired employee of Ipek.
Exterior work is just phase one of the project. Once the building is waterproofed and better insulated, town officials plan to hire a separate crew to put in a new efficient heating and cooling system fueled by a large propane tank buried in the parking lot.
“Right now it’s heated by number two fuel oil,” Gilmore said. “They had a spill last year. You can still smell it on a hot day. Can you imagine celebrating your parents’ 75th wedding anniversary and everything smelling like number two oil? Propane will be better.”
With heating and air-conditioning in place, they plan to tackle interior modifications, expanding bathrooms and rebuilding the kitchen among other things.
In the end, the structure hand-built by the unemployed workforce of the Great Depression will look like a modern building.
Bids from the five contractors at Monday’s building walk-through and a few others Gilmore said have shown interest are due April 26. Work will commence as soon as weather permits after a bid is accepted. Throughout phase one, the main hall will remain open for events.