Tuesday, April 18, 2006

No Love for City Hall


Okay it's fairly usual for there to be a lack of love for City Hall but usually it's related to what goes on inside the building and not because of the building itself.

Fall River's City hall, which is actually called Government Center, is unique. Built in the mid-70's and meant to be progressive and modern the building was built on an overpass over Rt. 195. The building itself has always been somewhat controversial, from its modern styling and placement above the highway, to its problematic history.

The story actually starts in the early 60's when the previous City Hall was knocked down to make way for Rt. 195. Then-mayor John Arruda negotiated for the air rights to build the future city hall in the same location, but above the highway. For the next dozen years the city government functioned out of the old Hotel Mellen while a succession of Mayors tried to make the new Government Center a reality. By the early 70's Mayor Mitchell had given up on the idea. It was deemed too expensive and impractical. Mayor Mitchell vowed to build a new city hall on property near the proposed Government Center. However with the election of Henry Driscoll, the government Center project was back on track and in 1976 it was Mayor Driscoll who proudly showed off Fall River's new center of government.

Problems arose immediately. The heating system didn't work, windows kept popping out of their frames and came crashing down on the walkways below. Within a year repair work was being done to the steps leading up to the building and a few years later it was being done again.

Today, as we quickly approach the 30 year anniversary of Government Center the building is getting some much overdue repair work, work that has been on hold since March of 1999.

It was Wednesday, March 3, 1999 when the unthinkable happened; a three ton tile on the ceiling of the Rt. 195 'tunnel' came crashing down on the highway below. Several were hurt but luckily no one was killed. The resulting investigation found that the tunnel hadn't been inspected in the 20 plus years both the city and the state believing the responsibility was the others. The cause of the mishap; drainage issues that state committed to repairing and then allowed to wait for 7 years.

While the state has delayed, put off and neglected, the city has been stuck at a stand-still unable to repair and upgrade the building and the plaza because it needs the state to complete its work first.

Now with the drainage work underway the city stands ready to finally fix the plaza and the buildings facade. Still, it seems most people would rather just tear it down and put City Hall on solid ground, forgetting that it would cost millions to demolish the existing structure and millions more to build a new city hall somewhere else and probably just as much to rehab an existing building.

Personally? I actually like Government Center! Maybe it's because we're both products of the 70's, or just because it's what I know. Either way there is no denying that the building is longer overdue for this makeover. I look forward to seeing the results.

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