City Hall exterior

With two months left before Long Beach's new City Hall is supposed to be complete, Clark Construction workers are starting to put finishing touches on the interior, water is running and heating and air conditioning system tests have been done.

And, Public Works Director Craig Beck said, the work will be done on time, with departments moving in through July. The council chambers and Port of Long Beach headquarters will be done at the same time, with the new Main Library not far behind.

"The process has gone surprisingly smoothly," Beck said Monday during a walk-through of the new City Hall. "We got the letter last week saying they will be ready in the last week of June… It will take three weekends in July to move departments and keep operating. The public portions will stay in the old city hall until it's all in the new building."

When that happens, it will be three years since the July 2016 groundbreaking ceremony, and six years since the city first started discussions to build a new civic center. The public-private partnership deal was signed with Plenary-Edgemoor Civic Partners in December 2014, and it took 18 months of public meetings before a final design was approved and construction started. The price tag for the entire Civic Center including the new Main Library and Lincoln Park is $520 million.

Those final plans are heavy on security while emphasizing efficiency, Beck said. The buildings will meet LEED Gold standards, and City Hall will use less energy than the current building.

A central heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) system will serve all three of the Civic Center buildings — City Hall, the Port headquarters and the new Main Library. There are solar arrays on all the roofs, with the library building actually generating more electricity than it uses.

Natural lighting is important, Beck said, while window treatments in the twin 11-story buildings will keep rooms from becoming too warm. A two-level underground parking facility adds 420 parking spaces — and a secure bicycle storage facility under the new City Hall has room for 150 bicycles.

"Security is a real emphasis in the new City Hall," Beck said. "We live in a new era. People are going to have to get used to a new way of dealing with the public."

While the old City Hall entrances open up to an accessible bank of elevators with access to every floor, the new building will require security screening and a pass to get beyond the second floor. There will be permanent metal detectors for people to go through to get to areas to pay bills or deal with permit requests, and there is a separate access with a metal detector to get to the council chambers for City Council, Harbor Commission or other public meetings.

Just off the lobby area, there is a secure "marijuana room," where payments from marijuana dispensaries can make tax and permit payments in private. Utility bill clerks are separated from customers with bulletproof glass, but there's also a room set aside where the city clerk can perform marriages. Public restrooms on the lobby level are all single-stall, lockable uni-sex toilets, with a joint use sink area.

If someone has an appointment with an elected official or city staff beyond basic bill or permit services, it will take a visitor's pass and acknowledgement by the office a person wants to visit to get access to the elevators. Once the proper floor is reached, it will take another check to get past a locked door between the elevators and actual offices. 

Once past all the security, the new offices are full of state-of-the-art efficiencies. Every office, from work cubicles in bullpens to department directors to the mayor's office, will have a sit or stand adjustable desk. Where there are about 22 conference rooms in the current City Hall; there will be 50 in the new one, all with fiber optics and more. Each floor will have a kitchen and a private, lockable mother's room for nursing mothers.

Back on the ground floor, the public portion of the lobby is open, with a two-story ceiling, a wood finish, terrazzo tile floor and the infamous 10-foot tall, 60-foot wide media wall. Beck said that screen can be used for everything from broadcasting City Council meetings to showing live off-site feeds (Congressional Cup races as seen from the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, for example) to art shows. There is a second room with video capability that also can be used for overflow when the council chamber is full. 

That council chamber facility — a round, two-story building linking City Hall and Port Headquarters — is a prime example of using space more efficiently, Beck said. Every part of the chamber is handicap accessible, including the speaking podium in front of the dais — and the dais itself. The room is much lower than the current council chamber and the seating area has only a slight pitch as opposed to the current stadium seating style. While the new room looks smaller, it has 254 seats — four or five more than the current chamber, Beck said.

Outside the council chamber is a public plaza between the two 11-story buildings. It will have wi-fi and seating areas, where people can meet and work when the weather allows.

About 1,000 people will work in the new City Hall, Beck said. Plenary-Edgemoor will own the building and lease it back to the city for the next 40 years, with Plenary-Edgemoor responsible for maintenance and repairs. At the end of that 40 years, the city can buy the buildings for $1 — and the buildings have to be in near-new shape Beck said. Given the fact that the old City Hall is 42 years old and at the end of its usable life, that maintenance condition guarantee is perhaps the best part of the entire deal, he said.

Today, the entire area remains a fenced-off construction zone. In three months, it will be the shiny new seat of city government — with more security and more efficiency. At least that's the plan, Beck said.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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