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Columbia City Council chambers, City Hall getting $500,000 renovation

A half-million-dollar interior renovation of Columbia’s City Hall has begun, forcing City Council, its land-use organizations and the public attending their meetings to go elsewhere for the rest of the year.

Today, council will hold its last afternoon work session of 2012 in a second-floor conference room at 1737 Main St. Later in the day, council also will hold its first 6 p.m. meeting in the print building adjacent to the former Eau Claire Town Hall, off North Main Street and Monticello Road.

The first City Hall upgrade in 20 years will result in a spruced-up council chamber, sharper video images for TV broadcasts and a new elevator that won’t jerk or close its door before riders are inside, city staffers said.

“It will make it look like it’s supposed to as a City Hall,” city manager Steve Gantt said Friday.

For $250,000, council’s chambers — once a federal courtroom — will no longer leak, will get a new coat of plaster and paint on its 18-foot walls as well as showcase refinished benches, a higher dais for council, and two new, higher-tech cameras to broadcast meetings.

New carpets will extend into administrative offices just outside the chamber, said Kelvin Keisler, the project manager and the city’s building maintenance director.

The work is being done by Dillon Construction Services Inc., of Irmo, which was the low bidder, Keisler said.

The price tag is about 10 times what taxpayers shelled out in 1992 when renovations included plaster repairs, refinished benches, carpet, drapes, a coat of paint, a drop ceiling and lighting. Parking services director John Spade, who oversaw that work, said the bill was $24,123.

A possible add-on to the project could be unmasking six large, circular windows above the current windows on the north and south walls, Keisler said. The round windows have been painted over at least for seven decades. Workers plan to examine them starting today to determine whether refurbishing them is worthwhile.

“We’re not 100 percent sure we’re going to do that,” Keisler said. “We need to do more research.” City Council would have to decide to increase the budget for the project.

Replacing the creaky, cranky elevator will cost another $250,000, said Keisler and David Knoche, the city’s director of general services.

Until 1978 when the automatic elevator was installed for $12,873, riders were let in and out by elevator operator Bob Livingston. He and his predecessors sat on a stool, manually opened and closed the door, then glided the lift to stops on the second and third floors, Spade said.

The building, constructed in 1870 during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, is made of granite from Winnsboro, said Spade. It is on the national list of historic buildings.

The federal complex that would become Columbia’s City Hall in 1938 also housed a post office and an office of the National Weather Service, Spade said.

The current elevator will stay in use until mid July when all its components are due to arrive, Keisler said. In September it will be replaced by an equal-size but energy-efficient unit trimmed in cherry veneer and stainless steel buttons and trim. LED lights will illuminate the box.

The new unit will sense when riders are inside. “If you’re in the doorway,” Kocher said, “it’s not going to let the door shut.” Keisler added: “It will be a little faster.”

But it won’t offer elevator music, Keisler said.

The contract was awarded to low bidder Oracle Elevator Co. of Charlotte, Keisler said.

The 29 administrative staffers who work in the historic building at Main and Laurel streets will stay in their offices throughout the six months of construction, Gantt said.