Local architect has inside track to land City Hall project
$40 million restoration will begin next spring
By Steve Jagler, of SBT
The City of Milwaukee expects to select an architect this month to lead the $40 million historical restoration of City Hall.
The Milwaukee Department of Public Works solicited a request for proposals in February and received seven responses, according to Venu Gupta, director of buildings and fleet services for the department.
The department is final negotiations with Engberg Anderson Design Partnership, which recently completed renovation of the nearby Pabst Theatre.
The architect and the department will then select a general contractor, Gupta said.
"We were looking for people who had experience in historic buildings and buildings of this scope and significance," Gupta said. "We’re hoping in the next couple of weeks that we have this worked out."
City Hall, located at the corner of Wells and Water streets, is perhaps the most recognizable structure on Milwaukee’s skyline, with the possible exception of the US Bank Center.
"We have been selected, and we are now in the process of negotiating with the city on the terms," said Charles Engberg, founding partner with Engberg Anderson. "We’re pretty excited about this project. We feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to work with the city on this project."
Original construction of the Flemish renaissance building was completed in 1895. The building received substantial renovations in 1919, the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1970s.
The structure, Gupta said, is due for significant rehabilitation. The work will include:
"What we believe has happened is technologies have changed, and we’re trying to extend the service life of what we do to it," Gupta said. "It’s simply age. After 100-some years, it requires some major attention."
The nine-story, 490-foot-high building is believed to be one of the tallest "truly masonry" towers in the nation, according to Gary Kulwicki, facilities manager for the Department of Public Works.
The project’s goal is to preserve the building’s functionality without altering its beloved appearance, he said.
"The point of the restoration is not to make it look new. It’s an antique," Kulwicki said.
Scaffolding has been erected at several points around the ground floor of the building as a precautionary step to protect visitors and employees at the structure.
More scaffolding will be clad around the upper levels of the building when the restoration begins in next spring, Gupta said.
The department expects the restoration to be complete by the end of 2006.
Some city offices can expect to see some disruptions as the project progresses, Gupta said.
"There will be some noise, some grinding, but nothing out of the ordinary," he said. "But everybody likes the building, and they’ll put up with it."
The west façade of the building will be restored first, followed by the east and the north facades, Gupta said.
The project will be funded over several years. Gupta and Kulwicki said the Milwaukee Common Council recognizes the need for the repairs and the historical significance of the building. Gupta and Kulwicki said they’re not concerned the city’s commitment will change next year, even when a new mayor takes office.
"The structure is owned and loved by the community, by the taxpayers," Kulwicki said. "I’ve worked there since 1968, and every time I look at that structure, I see something I didn’t see before."
"There is no question about the need. The need is there," Gupta said. "It will be (funded) over multiple years. It is a very sound structure. It’s just the cyclical weathering, the wear and tear, that needs to be replaced.
The architect that is chosen later this month will help the city apply to the US Secretary of Interior to obtain National Landmark status for the City Hall, Gupta said. Such a designation could help the city obtain federal funding for the restoration project, he said.
The Milwaukee City Hall already is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One aspect that makes the building unique is its varied forms of construction, Kulwicki said. The base is built on granite, while the next two stories are built with sandstone, and the remaining stories are comprised of some-8 million pieces of brick, enhanced by terra cotta, he said.
"It’s what, in trade parlance, is known as a transitional building. It was not built with a skeleton frame," Engberg said. "It was unique for its time. It was, for its day, as complex and innovative as the Calatrava building is today. This is a national landmark."
June 13, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee