ECU students seek uses for old City Hall

Published 12:56 am Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Contributing Editor

Several East Carolina University students have been assigned to develop usable plans to give Washington’s old City Hall a virtual makeover.
Hunt McKinnon, an assistant professor in ECU’s Department of Interior Design and Merchandising, recently met with city officials and members of the Washington Harbor District Alliance and Washington Area Historic Foundation to develop a blueprint for the project.
The ECU class involved with the project is offered in two sections this semester, with each section instructed to take a different approach regarding use of old City Hall. One section has been told to develop a plan that calls for retail space on the building’s first floor and apartments on the second floor. The other section has been charged with developing plan that incorporates offices and a Harbor District visitors center on the first and second floors, a computer-ready location and classroom space that could
be used by local educational institutions to assist with off-site learning programs.
McKinnon and 11 students visited old City Hall on Monday.
“Maturity — because they’re starting off as students and they need to be professionals. They learn by doing this that they’re not the consumer. The consumer is John (Rodman, the city’s planning and community development director) and the people of Washington who need for this building to be something more productive than it is now — and that these guys (students) are service providers,” said McKinnon in a brief interview at old City Hall when asked what he wants the students to get from their assignments.
The students spent at least an hour checking out the building and taking measurements with tape measures and light meters.
“Probably a good way of incorporating a residential space with a commercial space and reworking an interior space from the very beginning, from its gut,” said Ana Gustafson, an ECU student from Cary, when asked what she hopes to get from the assignment.
As he instructed the students on how to carry out their assignments, McKinnon reminded them the building does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act because it does not provide easy access to handicapped people. That’s something they must consider as they make their plans for the building, he said.
There’s more to the assignments than work in the field.
“Upon completion of their projects, the ECU design students will present their ideas to the City and WHDA, using architectural layouts and wall elevations. Besides giving the ECU students a hands-on practical exercise in planning and design, the designs will be available as suggestions for future development of the property. The City of Washington and the WHDA Economic Restructuring committee are currently in meetings and are developing requirements for an RFP bid process on the structure,” reads an e-mail from WHDA to several media outlets.
Recently, the city spent about $18,000 to maintain the building, which it owns. Old City Hall is on the west side of North Market Street between Main Street and Second Street.
During its Aug. 23 meeting, the City Council discussed two properties the city owns, including the old City Hall
At the Aug. 23 meeting, City Manager James C. Smith told the council there are “a number of developments there” in regard to old City Hall. Smith said a developer expressed interest in acquiring the property. The developer, later identified as Rehab Builders, expressed interest in placing two retail shops in the ground floor of the building and two apartments upstairs in the building, according to Smith
At its Aug. 23 meeting, the council indicated it planned for the city to sell the property by using the upset-bid process.
Under the upset-bid process, the city would accept a bid on the property. Once a bid from a prospective buyer is accepted, another prospective buyer has 10 days to offer a higher bid for the property. If a higher bid is not received in that 10-day period, the property would be sold to the entity making the initial bid. If a higher bid is received from another bidder, a new 10-day clock begins. The entity making the highest bid that is not upset within 10 days gets the property.