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Tumbling Down

After a rough winter and $21.5 million renovation, City Hall awaits another makeover.


City Hall is falling apart — again.

In December, large chunks of ice fell 18 stories from the building's roof, damaging the facade and glass canopy over the Broad Street entrance. The ice cracked or damaged at least seven portions of the glass canopy. It also crumpled at least eight sections of the aluminum siding, or flashing, which decorates the sides of the building.

Four months later one of the city's most important buildings remains in disrepair. Mike Wallace, a city spokesman, says the city plans to rehab the building's facade but is in the early stages of the process, having only recently submitted requests for proposals from construction contractors.

Part of the job, he says, will be to fix the building in order to “stop accumulation of ice and snow ... [to] make sure it doesn't happen again.”

Completed in 1972, City Hall is no stranger to sudden, drastic damage and declarations of decay. Before City Hall's $21.2 million facelift in 2003, the building was wrapped in roughly 12,000 marble slabs, which had begun to decay and crumble. Possibly to save money, the city plated the building with marble that was 1 1/4 inches thick, half the thickness for which the building design called. As a result marble slabs kept falling onto the sidewalk.

To remedy that problem the city turned to more than 5,000 fiberglass straps linked by hundreds of padlocks. They had a tendency to hum when the wind blew hard enough, and remained in place from 1995 to 2003.

If holding the building together with giant Band-Aids wasn't enough of a cry for help, administrators got a kick in the pants from City Building Commissioner Claude G. Cooper in 1999. He told council that if any more pieces of City Hall fell off he would be forced to condemn the building.

That wasn't Cooper's only critique of City Hall: In 1992 he essentially called it a firetrap, and said that it wouldn't have passed the fire codes of 1968, the year that the building was designed.

The building also has had problems with vermin, with one insider claiming a mouse once left a present for then-Mayor L. Douglas Wilder on his desk. Wilder denied it ever happened.

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