Special Report: City Hall

City Hall Rally Draws 150 Supporters

A rally on Saturday to maintain City Hall's heritage value has launched a citizen campaign to sponsor the added cost of using limestone instead of concrete for the building's facade.

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 26, 2008

Supporters met in the sunny lee of City Hall, sheltered from the cold wind
Supporters met in the sunny lee of City Hall, sheltered from the cold wind

Some 150 people braved the Baltic cold on Saturday to attend a rally and wave "Save Our Hall" posters in defence of Hamilton's City Hall, the beleagured International Style masterpiece of architect Stanley Roscoe.

Organized by Mary Louise Pigott, Dave Kuruc, and Graham Crawford, the rally was an expression of support for City Hall's status as an internationally renowned Modernist heritage building and an important civic icon in light of Council's decision to replace the marble exterior with precast concrete.

'Save Our Hall' posters: cheaper than a chunk of marble
'Save Our Hall' posters: cheaper than a chunk of marble

The rally featured a speech by Joan Roscoe, the wife of Stanley Roscoe (who is in ill health and was not able to attend). She gave a moving defence of the spirit in which Stanley designed the building and expressed dismay that none of the politicians responsible for the building's renovation plans have made any attempt to consult with him.

She also reiterated his warning, given back in 1960 when the building was constructed, that the city needed to invest in regular maintenance or else the building would require expensive repairs later. Unfortunately, over nearly five decades of use, successive City Councils have taken the politically expedient path of deferring maintenance to the extent that it now requires $70 million in rehabilitation costs.

150 enthusiastic supporters attended the rally
150 enthusiastic supporters attended the rally

Council voted in 2005 to designate City Hall as a municipal heritage building, citing the marble exterior as an important heritage feature (among many others). That marble cladding is in poor condition after decades of neglect, and City Council voted recently to replace it with cheaper precast concrete.

The decision has been highly controversial, with supporters arguing that Hamilton is not a wealthy city and cannot afford the much more expensive replacement marble cladding or even the less expensive but still architecturally consistent limestone.

Heritage advocates and architects opposing the decision argue that concrete violates the building's heritage designation (Council had to grant itself permission to violate its own heritage law), ages very poorly, and communicates the message that Hamilton doesn't take itself very seriously.

Mary Louise
Pigott and Dave Kuruc
Mary Louise Pigott and Dave Kuruc

Mary Louise Pigott, the granddaughter of Pigott Construction's J. M. Pigott, chastised the city for failing to learn from the experience of the old City Hall, which was demolished after decades of neglect. She pointed out that concrete needs ongoing maintenance "to keep it from becoming stained and shabby" after a few years, and pointed to the city's abysmal track record on building maintenance.

Classical building materials age gracefully, taking on an elegant patina of endurance. Think of the verdigris on a copper roof, or hardwood furniture worn to a dark shine from decades of use. They actually improve aesthetically with age.

Concrete and aluminum, by contrast, quickly start to look stained and dilapidated from exposure to the elements. They require frequent power washing to retain even the minimal beauty they possess when still new.

Unfortunately, the City has an embarrassing record of neglecting to maintain its own properties, which is why the City Hall marble is in such bad shape to begin with. Across the street, the stained and streaked concrete of Hamilton Place is a painful warning of what lies in store for the planned City Hall facade.

The concrete on Hamilton Place is stained and discoloured
The concrete on Hamilton Place is stained and discoloured

Pigott also spoke about the dangers of falling prey to the false economy of cut-rate materials and short-term expediency:

When some of our leaders declare that "we are not a wealthy municipality", or that our "untrained eyes" can't tell the difference [between concrete and limestone], they are telling us that we don't deserve better. ... If we make an irreversible decision now, based on this supposed lack of wealth, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Will talented, creative people want to bring their gifts to this city when they see how we treat the gifts that we already have?

Mayor Eisenberger took up this theme as well, recommending a limestone facade instead of concrete, which will cost an additional $2.9 million. Limestone is slightly more expensive but is longer-lasting, will age more gracefully than concrete, and as a natural ornamental stone is consistent with the building's heritage value.

Eisenberger, who originally advocated demolishing and rebuilding City Hall, now says, "If we're going to renovate this building, let's make sure we look after the heritage and put limestone on the building, which I think is the right way to go."

Mayor Eisenberger confers with Dave Kuruc
Mayor Eisenberger confers with Dave Kuruc

Councillor Brian McHattie pointed out that while political leadership ought to come from Council, sometimes Council doesn't take the lead and that leadership needs to come from the community. Since Council is unwilling to spend the extra money to upgrade precast concrete to limestone, McHattie is soliciting pledges from residents to help raise money. You can sponsor a square foot of limestone for $65. You can send your pledge to Councillor McHattie by email or phone:

So far, supporters have already pledged over $38,000. McHattie says of the pledges, "I am impressed by the quick response. Hamiltonians have proved they have a lot of civic pride." If you haven't already, please consider adding your pledge.

At the same time, Mayor Eisenberger is reaching out to "major benefactors in the community, who may come forward with some resources and some dollars" to support the effort. Eisenberger also drew attention to the forecourt, the renovation of which is also not funded. He said the court "needs to have a 'wow factor' that says: We are proud of our city. We are proud of our major civic institution, we hold it in high regard, and we want to let the entire province and Canada know that Hamilton has enormous civic pride."

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 23:30:02

This may be a dumb question, but what is a floor court? Could this be a forecourt, as in the area in fron of City Hall, perhaps. (Sorry, I haven't followed this story in all of its details)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2008 at 07:57:17

Beancounter,

You're absolutely right. Not sure how I missed that, but it's fixed now. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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By the conscience (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 11:06:43

I understand there are no plans to do anything with the marble. Can none of it be saved to interlace with the limestone. I would like to be sure no one from counsel ends up with a 'deal' where they get rid of marble and freely walk away with their own personal piece! If it cant be used on the face and refinished than it should be SOLD at top value to raise the money for limestone..

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2008 at 11:13:58

I believe that the contractor gets first dibs on the removed concrete - but I'm not certain. In any case, Councillor Mitchell had a suggestion about what to do with the removed marble:

http://raisethehammer.org/blog/1140/

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By notalemming (registered) | Posted November 30, 2008 at 14:24:53

The city hall isn't even facing the right direction for solar heating. Nothing really original about the building. To call it a heritage site is a little far fetched.

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By ttrey (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2008 at 20:02:40

could the floorcourt be lined in marble?... Marble steps perhaps?

Here's a question... what if we bought new marble slabs, that looked like original ones, what would we do with them? Install them right. Well let's pretend the old marble slabs are new ones we just bought and install them.

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By City Manager (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2008 at 20:35:48

Of course the reason for the problems with the city hall are related to the budget
Most cities use a life cycle or depreciation method to ensure that buildings--and capital assets are funded properly for both maintenance and replacement. Hamilton does not use this approach.
As a result numerous large facilities are in need of upgrades and repair--from Copps Center to Ivor Wynn Stadium. This list does not even include underground pipes , bridges and other capital assets
As these issues remain unaddressed the City will continue to struggle with increasingly fewer options
Bob Robertson

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By lives over limestone (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 21:42:30

Sorry, just can't get excited about saving the design heritage of a building, having people raise tremendous amounts of money to do so (I have heard that $68000 has been raised already) when there are people living without homes, without food, without hope.

Just think what that money could have done? City Hall is just a building housing city couuncil and their appointed staff who continue to be mired in slugggish backward selfish thinking that will never change and I for one will not spend money to make their house greater while people starve.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:55:57

I'm always shocked when I read all the people in the spectator saying that "we can't afford" limestone, or that in this economy we should do things as cheaply as possible.

Do they all want to live and work in square concrete boxes? Do they have no sense of aesthetics or architecture at all? I'm not saying we need to plate city hall in gold, or even marble, but c'mon, can we have some pride in our buildings? Can we make something tat is at least nice to look at when walking by? These same people who are arguing against "luxury" at city hall are likely the same ones who enjoy private luxury, and see this as a "waist" of their money.

When the old Hamilton Public Library (now the Family Court) was built I doubt anyone thought it "too extravagent" or anyone complained that it should have been more plan and clad shaped like a concrete tomb. People would have been proud to see the city opening such a beautiful new building.

What has happened to people?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 02, 2008 at 15:28:00

lives over limestone:

Unfortunately, we live in a time when looks DO matter. Our city hall needs to present a professional, world class air if we are ever going to attract world class businesses and investments - things which will go a long way to solve many of the social problems which you discuss.

The city is a big picture, of which city hall is a large part. You can't just look at it as cut-and-dry as "spending money on limestone instead of food". It just doesn't work that way.

I am all for cutting frivolous spending, but we need a reasonable space to house (and showcase) our local government - and it has to be functional and efficient as well.

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By volterwd (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2008 at 23:55:01

I like concrete and I don't see the point in spending money on the building when there are a lot of things they could spend it on.

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By Thom (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2008 at 19:19:33

Scrap all that concrete and dump loads of topsoil on the forecourt and give it to Food Not Bombs or a community group to grow food, orchards and a beautiful garden. That would speak volumes about Hamilton and our priorities. Don't waste money on managing public spaces, give them to their owners, the people.

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By charles111 (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2008 at 22:57:29

I'm sorry but the building is not attractive to most people. I've been in the Architectural/Construction industry for years and none of the people I have dealt with think it's worth saving because of it's asthetics. If you don't think the final tally wil be more than a new build then you are fooling yourselves. It's always the way.

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By Hello (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2008 at 23:31:35

There was not 150 people as advertised on this blog. I was there and counted. There were only 125 people. Poor turnout.

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By Mullinger (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2008 at 18:49:57

*** YAWN ***

When are you drones going to wake up and smell the java?

This is what will happen:
The city will spend millions refacing city hall. After the refacing is finally finished (after delays and overages) more renovations will be needed. After years of being vacant, the entire building will have to be stripped and refurbished. I'm sure mold will have moved in by then. The city will spend millions more to conduct study after study and finally come to the conclusion that maybe it would have been less expensive to build a new city hall... or save even more by staying in City Centre.

Tear the piece of crap down, build a new city hall, or stay in City Centre. It's time Hamilton realized a new image.

Money doesn't grow on trees, especially in these tough times.

WAKE UP

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By Mullinger (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2008 at 20:09:49

*** YAWN ***

When are you drones going to wake up and smell the java?

This is what will happen:
The city will spend millions refacing city hall. After the refacing is finally finished (after delays and overages) more renovations will be needed. After years of being vacant, the entire building will have to be stripped and refurbished. I'm sure mold will have moved in by then. The city will spend millions more to conduct study after study and finally come to the conclusion that maybe it would have been less expensive to build a new city hall... or save even more by staying in City Centre.

Tear the piece of crap down, build a new city hall, or stay in City Centre. It's time Hamilton realized a new image.

Money doesn't grow on trees, especially in these tough times.

WAKE UP

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 18:06:18

Dave run for mayor soon please

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