Students present plans for old City Hall

Published 5:41 am Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Contributing Editor

Keeping the historical integrity of old City Hall while going green in developing an adaptive-reuse plan for the structure was the theme of three presentations by East Carolina University students Monday.
A second round of presentations is slated to begin at 9 a.m. today at the Washington Civic Center.
The students, working in teams, were given an assignment 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, and several of his students visited old City Hall late last month, with students taking measurements and closely examining the structure so they could better prepare their plans for its reuse.
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 was 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 was charged with developing a 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.
“We are thrilled to have them working in conjunction with the city on this building,” said John Rodman, the city’s director of planning and development.
The students who presented their plans Monday incorporated a retail space — a green grocer — on the building’s ground floor and residential use on its second floor.
Each of the presentations included “green elements” for both the commercial and residential uses. Many items related to flooring, lighting and interior construction were chosen because they are eco-friendly, the students said.
Student Jordin Mack said her four-member team consisting of herself, Lorrie Somerville, Alexis Miles and Elizabeth Crowe used Washington’s motto of “Pride in the past, faith in the future” as its inspiration for its plan.
“It was a huge part because using what the building already has in it. It has character. We didn’t want to take that away from Washington, so we wanted to incorporate the bannisters which were upstairs, downstairs and let everyone be able to see it,” Mack said about her team’s “green” approach to adaptive reuse and yet preserve the building’s historical significance.
“Obviously, about the fire-rating system and also just the process learning what restoration is and how to incorporate new ideas and keeping in code with restoration guides,” Mack replied when asked what she learned during the two-hour session Monday.
Old City Hall provides a good framework to support adaptive reuse, according to the students.
“When we all came to see this space, we all just loved the brick and the historic, rustic look that the building had, and we all realized we could do a lot of great things with what we already had,” said Ana Gustafson, a member of another team.
Last month, Rodman said he hopes the ECU students’ work will “show us some uses the building can be used for and then we, in turn, can use those uses to help market the building.”
In recent months, there has been some interest in the building by developers. Recently, a Massachusetts man, who plans to move to Cypress Landing, expressed interest in old City Hall, according to Rodman.
Aside from two public bathrooms downstairs and an elevator to provide handicapped people access to the second floor (both elements were part of the students’ design instructions), each of the three presentations called for using the structure’s existing brick walls.
“We wanted to keep the exposed brick,” Crowe said.
The students said comments from audience members who have experience in adapting old buildings for new uses provided them valuable insight because those people have completed projects, whereas the students have only planned projects. By listening to such people, students said, they can learn from their experiences and incorporate those experiences into their coursework.
“In the long run, I think they will realize just how much they learned, because we can be in the studio and we study all this and memorize it out of the textbook and be examined on it. When they get here and present their drawings and they have questions like they had from the audience today — it’s real showtime.” McKinnon said when asked about the importance of the students making their presentations to those who attended the session.
McKinnon said such presentations and the work leading up to them is of great benefit to the students because they are better prepared to work as professionals in their field.
“East Carolina is very, I think, focused on actually getting students out with real skills to do real good for real people,” McKinnon said.