New city building study to see if senior center structure can be saved

Wood County Senior Center at 305 N. Main St., Bowling Green

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

Bowling Green found an answer to its need for more city administration space in the neighboring senior center. But the question now is whether or not some of the historic senior center can be preserved as it becomes part of a new city administration building.

Years ago, the Bowling Green city administration offices outgrew their space at 304 N. Church St. And now that the Wood County Senior Center is building a new facility on South Grove Street, the city will soon have access to that neighboring property that it already owns at 305 N. Main St.

On Monday, the city’s board of public utilities will discuss a resolution putting money toward a study of a new city building.

Part of that feasibility study will evaluate the existing senior center, located directly to the east of the city building. The study will examine if that structure, which was formerly a U.S. Post Office, can be preserved in some form as it becomes part of a new city building.

“We’re keeping an open mind, seeing what the experts recommend,” Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said on Friday. “We’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with.”

The feasibility study will examine the three structures owned by the city on that block – the city administration building, the senior center, and a house recently acquired by the city at 316 N. Church St.

Property owned by the city is outlined in red, and includes the city administration building at 304 N. Grove St., a house at 316 N. Grove St., and the county senior center at 305 N. Main St.

The city administration building started its life more than a century ago as a school. It then was turned into a library, and in 1976 became the city administration building. The result is a 17,000 square foot building with cramped offices, maze-like spaces and cobbled together technology.

But after years of discussion, the solution turned up right next door.

In 2017, city officials announced that property at 140 S. Grove St. would be donated to the Wood County Senior Center for a new facility. That means the city would then have the entire stretch between North Main Street and North Church Street for a more spacious and modern city administration building.

The location would also satisfy the desire held by Mayor Dick Edwards and others to keep the city building in the downtown area.

The current senior center has its share of building issues. It was built in 1913 and used as a post office until the 1970s. It’s gone through many renovations for use as a senior center, but it may pose as many challenges as the city building. Retrofitting the site for ADA standards has been challenging, the elevator is a maintenance nightmare, the chiller is a six-figure item needing replacement, and façade and roofing problems are looming.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. But as long as no federal funds are used on the site, the city can do with it as it wishes.

The city building also has a long list of deficiencies.

The council chambers is small, with the fire code allowing a maximum of 66 people. That means several times a year, citizens attending meetings have to stand in the hallway since the room is overflowing. The restrooms are cramped and just barely pass muster for handicapped accessibility.

Some office floors slope so much that wheeled chairs roll across the surface. Power access is less than ideal, so masses of cords are plugged into inconvenient locations. The old construction is not energy efficient, with the south side sweltering in the afternoon sun while the north side of the building is freezing.

The technology department is a maze of rooms, with one of the smallest housing the brains of the building –  servers with information on email, telephones, utilities, finances, taxes and police data. Storage space is in great demand, with boxes and files filling any vacant space, behind doors, on floors, and stacked high on shelves.

So the board of public utilities is being asked to approve a resolution Monday evening for a city administration building feasibility study. City council will be asked to do the same – with the board and council each putting in $50,000 for the study.

The study would look at the following:

  • Review the current city administration building size, operation, layout and site conditions.
  • Recommendations on a new building size and layout.
  • Recommendations on a new site layout including a new building, parking, buffer zones, access, etc.
  • Perform an evaluation of the building at 305 N. Main St. for existing deficiencies and costs to correct those. Evaluate if the existing building at 305 N. Main St., can reasonably be incorporated into a new building without sacrificing functionality, access, architectural aesthetics, maintenance, etc. Identify any pros, cons and associated costs.
  • Recommendations on architectural styles and durable building materials to aesthetically fit with the downtown while considering life expectancy and maintenance costs.
  • Provide architectural renderings of the building and site options.
  • Recommendations on sustainability options beyond the standing building code to consider incorporating into the building and site including associated costs.
  • Cost estimates for design, engineering, demolition, construction, equipment, furniture, and annual operating and maintenance costs.
  • Recommendations on the phasing of construction, including utilizing the existing city building during the construction of a new building or temporary relocation of city offices during construction and associated costs.
  • Recommendations on design and construction schedule.
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