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Friday, September 25, 2020

Fort Thomas Plans Long Overdue Renovations and More for City Building

Rendering of the design concept of the renovated Fort Thomas city building

By Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Initial design concepts were unveiled this week for renovations and upgrades that will make the Fort Thomas city building more accessible and welcoming for residents and other visitors.

Representatives of Robert Ehmet Hayes & Associates, an architectural and design firm located in Covington and known to residents for their work on Fort Thomas school projects, presented the plans at the meeting.

A new roof, new HVAC, new windows, ADA-compliant restrooms and elevators — a long list of necessary and “deferred” maintenance and renovations will be addressed in a new project to bring the city building, built in 1968, up-to-date. Yet, city officials don’t plan to stop there. The project includes a reconfiguration of the space to make it more user friendly for the public.

"We want the building to be much more of a public-use facility, not just a building that houses city services," said City Administrator Ron Dill.

He explained that updating the building was included as a priority in the city’s Comprehensive Plan update. Officials and staff were aware of maintenance issues, and the renovation plan is meant to address these, but also to re-imagine and reconfigure the space to provide 24-7 accessibility and a much more welcoming interface for the public.

In addition to the updates that will bring aspects of the building into ADA compliance and address major replacements such as a new roof and new HVAC system, the plan is to build a small addition that will provide an entrance at the rear of the building off the parking lot. The new restrooms and elevator will be in that new space.

The front facade of the building will get a makeover as will the lobby area. The goal, said Dill, is to provide a more welcoming space and one that will allow the lobby to be open to the public at all times. 

Drop boxes will be provided for the various departments, and the lobby will provide wifi connectivity and other amenities. The renovation also will provide better meeting space that may be made available to civic groups and for lease for various meetings. 

Design concept rendering of the new back entrance to the Fort Thomas city building.

How much will this cost?

The project is estimated to cost about $5.5 million, but the good news is that the project can be done with no increase in taxes or cuts to the budget, said Dill.

Financing will come from a combination of money saved through refinancing existing debt, a favorable interest rate for new debt and money already in the budget in the Central Business District fund.

This year the city retired its debt on renovations to the police department and is refinancing with the new favorable rates. 

"I feel really good about the bid climate for competitive bids," said Dill. "The bond market is strong, and the interest rate is favorable. We will have the funding that makes this viable."

The city has saved money in recent years by deferring important renovations, but those would have needed to be addressed soon even without a major renovation, said Dill. In fact, the maintenance part of the project takes up about half the overall cost.

A year-long project once it’s started

Now that city officials have had a look at the design concepts, the next step is for the architectural firm to develop more detailed construction plans. City officials will look at these and, if all goes well, the hope is construction bids could go out before the end of this year and be approved in December.

Once the bids are accepted and work actually begins, Dill says it will be about a year-long project with a goal of completion by the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022.

The aging building has needed repairs and a facelift for quite awhile, but the current pandemic forcing staff to limit access to the building even more, has highlighted the need for a more accessible space, said Dill.

"I’m excited about the idea of the building, being able to make the building much more of a public use facility as we come out of COVID situations," he added. 

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