Bangor City Hall’s proposed renovation boondoggle

Last week in my local paper:

The first floor of Bangor City Hall could look pretty different in the coming years if local voters pass a referendum next month authorizing the city to borrow up to $6 million.

I was hearing alarm bells already, thanks to the forced folksiness of “look pretty different.” That’s BDN code for “this is not a serious story, just skim it and file it away in the back of your mind without thinking about it too much.”

…residents will also vote on the funding for a proposed renovation of City Hall’s interior estimated to cost almost $6 million. The project would alter where residents pay their taxes, register their cars and access other services on the building’s first floor, while also replacing its heating and ventilation system and making other improvements to better serve people with disabilities.

This wouldn’t make much of a difference in the city’s debt-service budget, the BDN goes on to explain, because the city already owes $127 million. I’m old enough to remember when governmental debt was an issue, but whatever.

Officials have said that the proposed renovations should cut the building’s operating costs by improving the energy efficiency of City Hall. The city now pays about $83,000 annually to heat and power the building.

The changes could also reduce the cost of providing services to residents and extend the hours of those services.

The city has not yet done any serious planning or design for the renovation, including an analysis of what savings it could bring, because officials did not want to spend heavily before seeking voter approval, according to Cyr.

This is where the alarm bells started getting louder for me. They don’t know exactly what they’re going to do to the building, what it will cost, or what impact it will have on their current expenses, but it’ll totally save money! Here’s a concrete dollar amount! The city could save (some unspecified percentage of) $83,000 (maybe, if all goes well)! Hell, this renovation might actually pay for itself! (…in a minimum of 72 years, and that’s if it cuts utility costs by 100% and the city sticks to that $6,000,000 budget.)

And here’s the other big selling point we’re supposed to salivate over:

Almost half of the renovation’s costs would come from the proposed changes on the first floor. Now, residents who want to pay their taxes, register a dog, seek building permits, receive an absentee ballot and seek other services must visit several different offices scattered around the 14,400-square-foot lobby.

The renovation would consolidate those services into a single office and counter space directly in front of the building’s front doors facing Harlow Street, replacing a stretch of wall that’s now covered by three large paintings showing the region’s development. The city would train staff on providing the full spectrum of services in the “one-stop shop.”

The city actually concocted this line of marketing earlier this year:

A Bangor resident hoping to pay his property taxes, register his dog and apply to hold a yard sale all in the same trip could be in for a long wait.

Each of those tasks is handled by a different office on the first floor of City Hall, so the resident would have to wait in three different lines to complete all the paperwork.

Now, the city is considering renovating the interior of City Hall…

Property taxes are due in March and September, and dog licenses expire on December 31. You could renew your dog license a few months early, I suppose, but who would? And some people do hold yard sales in September, but in March the weather is unreliable, and don’t even ask about December. In short, these three City Hall errands have probably never been done on the same day by anyone.

And that “14,400-square-foot lobby” isn’t exactly a maze; it’s more like a big square. I’m not surprised that a former city councilor reports getting lost there, because he’s a former city councilor, but I doubt that many other people have the same problem walking around a few corners in a single hallway with ample signage. (…though I haven’t been there in a while, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if a few of those signs had been taken down to make the current lobby look worse and the renovation sound better.)


You might be left wondering, if the reasons City Hall gave for the proposed renovation are such transparent lies, what their real reason might be. That’s because, unless you clicked through to the original BDN story, you haven’t seen this picture yet:

Bangor City Hall Renovation

City Hall is next door to the public library, which finished a years-long renovation of its own a few ywars ago. It was a bit of a boondoggle – they started raising funds for roof repairs and decided, while they were at it, to gut the rest of the building and triple the cost – but if you go to that article and check out the pictures, taking in the modern-looking lights, the light wood paneling… and contrast it with what City Hall looks like now:

Bangor City Hall Lobby 2019.jpg

Dark wood? Square lights? The horror.

And no, I’m not just reading too much into the BDN’s featured images. Back to that city councilor who got lost in his own building:

But the interior, especially the first floor with its inaccessible and confusing layout, would justifiably make any visitor wonder if they’d been transported back to the 1970s. Its lobby feels unwelcoming at best, with its siloed offices and dark, heavy wooden doors.

I don’t believe architecture envy is a good reason to extort an extra $6,000,000 from the people of Bangor, but then again, I don’t work in City Hall.


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