Revitalization

City Hall Renovation: Wow. Just - Wow.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 03, 2009

The city's public works committee voted 5-3 yesterday to support the renovation committee's decision and fund a $2 million enclosed forecourt as part of the City Hall renovation project.

The forecourt, a glorified lobby, is supposed to give the building a "wow factor", a phrase that sets my teeth a little more on edge every time I stumble across it.

Do you know what would give the building a "wow factor"? A façade not made of precast concrete and aluminum trim.

The renovation committee and council have steadily flouted the building's architectural heritage, voting to give themselves permission to violate the city's own municipal heritage designation - to the extent that E.R.A. Architects, the city's heritage consultant, actually resigned in disgust.

Now the same councillors who couldn't see fit to spend a lousy $3 million on an architecturally appropriate façade are jazzed up about spending $2 million on a glass enclosure for the front, claiming that it will somehow become a public meeting space.

Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who steamrolled the concrete cladding through council and refused to explore creative options for funding a limestone alternative, now says he believes the glass foyer will qualify for federal infrastructure money.

The sheer fail is just breathtaking. While Mayor Fred, who at least supported the limestone option, warns council not to be "a penny wise and a pound foolish", the City Hall renovation seems to be getting all its priorities just about exactly wrong.

Why the sudden enthusiasm for a $2 million glass foyer? Are they overcompensating for the steady drumbeat of public and professional criticism over their previous choices? Are they simply incapable of distinguishing between substance and empty gesture?

In context, the magnitude of our city's abject failure of leadership from Council on what ought to have been a series of no-brainers is difficult to fathom.

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 jason (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 10:45:35

these guys must live pretty boring lives if they get 'wowed' everytime they walk through an entry vestibule at an office building or mall. This is a joke.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 11:24:18

I hope they make it out of the "self cleaning" glass. Otherwise maintenance costs are going to suck to. Why do rules only apply to some? 100% with Ryan on this. Sickening!!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2009 at 11:41:54

I had to look up "self cleaning glass" to see if you were being facetious, but it turns out the stuff actually exists:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-cleani...

Can transparent aluminum be too far off?

Oh wait:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transparent...

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 11:47:30

Sigh....

Sadly this kind of hypocrisy and downright stupidity seems to be par for the course for the majority of this council. I'm sure the next thing they'll do is vote to stick the proposed to stadium in the middle of some farm up on the mountain without existing infrastructure to support it. Does anyone who voted how on this thing? It would be nice if those who voted for this epic fail could be held accountable when the long term problems it causes start showing up.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 11:49:30

Bah typing fail...

That second last sentence should say: "Does anyone know who voted how on this thing?"

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2009 at 12:11:31

UrbanRenaissance wrote:

Does anyone know who voted how on this thing?

From the linked Spec article, here's the breakdown of public works committee votes.

For: Eisenberger, Ferguson, Powers, McCarthy (!?), Jackson Against: Bratina, Collins, Merulla

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 12:15:46

Ah, thanks Ryan. My IE isn't co-operating today so I couldn't open any of the links in the article.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2009 at 12:22:45

UrbanRenaissance wrote:

My IE [snip]

There's your problem. http://www.getfirefox.net/

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 12:50:51

Ryan wrote: "There's your problem."

I knew that was coming, and normally I would have just installed FF on my work machine when I started here, but I inherited this computer from a previous employee who totally FUBAR'd the machine. After he left our IT nazi locked down the machines to prevent anyone from installing new software.

He's apparently leaving soon though, hopefully he remembers to unlock these machines before he goes!

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 13:45:59

"The sheer fail is just breathtaking." Quoted for truth, and I approve of the use of the word fail in that context.

So, we're stuck with this decision right? No election coming up before the renovations will commence, no way to appeal the stupidity of city council... It's so sad that the citizens of Hamilton just let this happen.

I'm not in the city currently, was there any coverage in the Spectator about this? Anything that could have helped stoke a fire under people? Are we the only ones who are paying attention, or are we just the only ones who think this is ridiculous?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 17:19:28

It's only been approved by the public works committee. It still has to go before council, so start sending your cards and letters, kids.

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By ttrock (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 18:00:20

Eisenberger is getting more disappointing with every decision. I respect his managerial and administrative qualities but as a mayoral leader that Hamilton needs he is not performing.

At the same time Terry Cooke is surprisingly getting more encouraging by his weekly columns.

Bratina, McHattie and to some extent Collins should be the only ones left on next city council. It's time purge.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted February 03, 2009 at 21:27:58

I cannot believe the idiocy of this city council. It is simply amazing that the city has found the funds, for a glass lobby, yet denied those grandparents of ROCK, the temporary care assistance funding they so desparately needed to help in raising their grandkids. Not only did the city deny them, the city also found the money to hire the lawyers.

Not only that, we have a dire situation with people sruggling just to make ends meets, they are denied access to the foodbanks, those who are the working poor, who cannot prove they need help with food are denied as they do not have the government papers to acknowledge they are poor.

People are losing their jobs, which will cause more people to struggle, yet our council has money for "How to get along" seminars and a vision statement, which excludes a fair percentage of the population of this city. It is time for the people to get angry and rise to the occasion. We need new leaders, those who are not attached to any money, those that actually care about their fellow citizens, those that will stand up for all and not just those who have the dollars.

What a bunch of hogwash.

Maybe what we need is for the people to rise like in the stelco strike of 1946, maybe we need a leader like Sam Lawrence, who understood the plight of the people and not just those, the money men.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2009 at 21:28:24

Wow, what philistines.

It's bad enough that they rejected a green roof, even though this would perform multiple functions (including out-of-town publicity). But putting a lot of glass on a North-facing wall actually decreases the energy efficiency of the building.

These dullards at City Hall are a consistent obstacle to Hamilton's renaissance. They are going to keep making big decisions that are outdated by 40 years until: 1) everybody with half a brain moves elsewhere, or 2) Hamilton has the most mobilized grassroots opposition on the continent.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 10:38:20

I actually emailed Councillor Chad Collins last night regarding this to ask him how he voted and thank goodness he was one of the 3 who voted against it. Sometimes people think, most of the time they don't it seems. I raised the whole saving 3 million by changing the facade and removing the green roof because of cost issues and then going ahead and spending 2 million on a fish bowl in front of city hall and he acknowledged them as good points. Hopefully he brings them up at a coucil meeting.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 10:41:14

Ryan, I actually for once wasn't being facetious lol. They use the stuff to make those expensive sun rooms on houses. It's hardly self cleaning tho. It's like a dishwasher leaving dirty spots on it after a while.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 11:29:56

Just received an email from Councillor Collins suggesting that as many people as possible should email both the councillors and the mayor's office.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2009 at 11:51:58

Thanks for sharing, Frank.

Here's an easy way to get the email addresses for the members of Council:

http://raisethehammer.org/article/450

Here they are, separated by commas. You should be able to paste them into your email application's "To:" field.

mayorfred@hamilton.ca, bmchattie@hamilton.ca, bbratina@hamilton.ca, bmorelli@hamilton.ca, smerulla@hamilton.ca, ccollins@hamilton.ca, tjackson@hamilton.ca, sduvall@hamilton.ca, twhitehead@hamilton.ca, bclark@hamilton.ca, mpearson@hamilton.ca, dmitchell@hamilton.ca, lferguson@hamilton.ca, rpowers@hamilton.ca, rpasuta@hamilton.ca, mmccarthy@hamilton.ca

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2009 at 12:16:04

I have a glass covered entrance to my building and I can assure you - it really does have a Wow factor. I say 'Wow' every morning when I walk through it. Sometimes I get funny looks, but what the hell, I just can't help it. It's amazing. Made of glass and everything. Incredible. What will they come up with next? Crystal shaped facades? Oh, wait we did that...

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2009 at 14:29:54

My only ? now is , "Which Hamilton major player is the Atrium going to be named after?"
I think a bad case of Legacy-itus is breaking out. ;-)

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 06, 2009 at 23:26:40

I came up with a whole new reason to fight this idea. I walked by city hall today and realized that the floating council chamber is a unique piece of this buildings architectural legacy. I tried to envision it enclosed with glass and I'm scared of the outcome. It will look stupid and will take away from the great floating design. Spend the money on limestone or on a good public piazza surrounding the hall that can become people-friendly and vibrant.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2009 at 01:09:14

"Spend the money on limestone or on a good public piazza surrounding the hall that can become people-friendly and vibrant."

Jason you are Right! Most modern City Halls have a plaza/piazza that is not only public friendly but useful for all kinds of public events, concerts, holiday festivities, charity fund raisers & local initiatives. The idea of keeping the public at a long arm's length is outdated, as is isolating City Hall from it's citizens.

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By Neither Follower nor Leader (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2009 at 12:43:39

But we ask for, indeed, demand civic leadership, not planning, research, mediation, consultation, and anything but representation. The people who made this decision are the leaders we asked and voted for, and our job now is to shut up and follow along, not to second guess and demand an informed role in the process.

Besides, other costs will inevitably skyrocket and the big wow necessarily sacrificed for the greater good of all. You should pay attention to the behaviour of leaders before getting all worked up.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2009 at 03:08:33

Quote from 'Neither',
"But we ask for, indeed, demand civic leadership, not planning, research, mediation, consultation, and anything but representation. The people who made this decision are the leaders we asked and voted for, and our job now is to shut up and follow along, not to second guess and demand an informed role in the process."

Who says that these are the leaders we voted for? Who says that once leaders are elected they should shove cotton balls in their ears, grab the bit in their teeth, & possibly head for the nearest cliff, taking their constituency/City with them?

'Our job' is now to shut up???? Until the next election? And then shut up again for 4 years? That's not a job, that's an excuse!

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By BE (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2009 at 10:26:34

The comparision between the renovation decisions that council makes and those that are made by the general public is striking. Is council mearly reflecting the uncaring, lazy, half assed renovation techniques of the public or is the public looking upon our civic structures with a shrug and cheaping out on their building materials as well?

Council decides to take down marble cladding from city hall and replace it with and inferior product.
Compare that with:
The 10's of thousands of houses with layers of peeling paint (no primer for us thanks! We're not a wealthy municipality.) over beutiful brick that simply needed a power washing. Quaint architectural features covered over by the cheapest ugliest vinyl siding money can buy. Original windows replaced with incorrectly sized windows (possibly bought on the cheap from someones friends, brother or cousin who happened to have some cheap windows). Or why replace windows at all, plywood is much cheaper.

A brief review of the history of Hamilton reveals a long storied history of poor construction quality, cheap building materials and general half-assed-ness. All of it ending up costing the City more money in the long run than they saved cheaping out in the first place.

Council had a chance to stop this viscious cycle with the renovation of City Hall. Once again. They Failed. And we get to pay for it again in another 20 years.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2009 at 10:47:31

BE wrote:

Is council mearly reflecting the uncaring, lazy, half assed renovation techniques of the public or is the public looking upon our civic structures with a shrug and cheaping out on their building materials as well?

I'm not sure about this, but I do think it's interesting that when Councillor Ferguson was warned that if Council replaced the marble with concrete, it would encourage private owners to ignore heritage rules, he happily agreed.

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By Neither Follower nor Leader (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2009 at 16:08:50

There's a lot of self loathing in this city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 11, 2009 at 19:36:18

city council just defeated this idea very soundly. Only Mayor Fred voted in favour of it (don't ask me why). Hopefully this will free up the $2 million to be used on the forecourt/piazza area surrounding the hall.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 11, 2009 at 20:22:16

Thank God. And thanks for the update, Jason. They should look at the green roof again too.

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