Construction work continues steadily at new City Hall

Sean C. Morgan

The exterior of the new City Hall, in the Midway area of Sweet Home along Highway 20, is quiet and serene.

A fence blocking access to the parking lot is all that hints that anything is going on in the building, but construction workers from GBC Construction of Corvallis are swarming the interior daily, getting the new facility ready for occupancy by April.

They are busy building and moving walls, constructing customer service windows, installing new heating and ventilation equipment, hanging ducts, running electrical and plumbing services, installing insulation and more.

The new layout in the former U.S. Forest Service Sweet Home Ranger District office is in place, with new conference rooms taking shape in the front of the building. The future offices of city staff members are in place, and the City Council Chamber is taking shape.

The new HVAC system is in place now. City Staff Engineer Joe Graybill said the city has selected a new variable coolant roof-mounted system that has a good reputation for energy efficiency and functionality.

“We decided to go with the newer technology,” Graybill said. The system runs multiple lines of coolant around the building to provide heat and cooling, providing more flexibility with climate control.

The type of HVAC system had been in contention among city officials. Mayor Greg Mahler had suggested using side-mounted HVAC units to avoid causing leaks with roof-mounted equipment.

“We’re going to be here at least another 50 years,” Graybill said. “It’s good putting in a long-term durable, flexible system.”

Throughout the building, offices have interior windows, allowing natural light deep into the structure, Graybill said, and a skylight has flexible solar tubing that can reroute sunlight into the deepest parts of the building.

While the building is taking shape, Graybill said, Sweet Home High School Construction Trades students are working on various finishing projects, including counter tops, a conference table and sliding doors.

The building is retaining three existing doorways, beams and room dividers, Graybill said.

Out of place in the unfinished Council Chamber are wooden room dividers left over from the Forest Service.

The city will not be using a long room on the east side of the building initially, and GBC is preparing the room to remain empty until a use is selected. It will be heated but remain unfinished.

City officials have discussed using it for Public Works offices, as well as space for other organizations.

GBC began construction in December, Graybill said. It is proceeding on a design-build model, which “means there’s design decisions as you go.”

About 85 or 90 percent of the plan is in place, but it leaves flexibility during the project, he said.

“With the actual construction, it’s been going great. There’s been no issues. Every once in awhile, they have to nudge us for decisions.”

City officials in the past have highlighted a number of issues with the existing City Hall at 1140 12th Ave. They include storage space, cracks in the walls, mold problems, plumbing issues, water problems and single-pane windows.

Updating the facility would require it to come up to modern earthquake codes, Graybill said, and that’s where things get expensive.

“Having this building here and on this land is a pretty good deal,” Graybill said, far less expensive than brand new construction; and the building has room for expansion.

The city purchased the building in July 2016 for $750,000.

The building was constructed in 1989 for the Ranger District, which occupied it until May 2006, when it moved to its work center at 4431 Main St. With shrinking staffing and budget levels, Ranger District officials sought to save more than $100,000 per year. The district had paid $240,000 per year in lease payments for the 12,000-square-foot building.

The council accepted a $910,000 design and construction bid from GBC Construction in October.