Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fall River Observations

Marc Monroe Dion had an article in the paper the other day about how Government Center was an example of brutalism. (Insert joke here). Brutalism is an architectural style popular in the 60's and 70's that unfortunately matches what most people think of our City Hall.

I've made no secret that I have a soft spot for our much maligned City Hall. Still, has it ever looked better? Really? I'm not sure if it looked this good when it opened!

Sadly, just when the exterior of the building is looking like something we can take some pride in, it's becoming clear that the interior will continue to look worn out, run down and dingy. With the tough economic situation the city is facing I just can't see anyone supporting spending money to renovate the interior, no matter how badly it needs it. If the money is already budgeted, I say let's do it now and have the whole building done.

Despite the buildings rather infamous reputation, the origins are really rather interesting. When the original City Hall was being torn down to make way for I-195, Mayor John Arruda secured the air rights to build the new city hall above the highway. The idea was for the building to bridge the highway and unite the north and south sections of the city separated by the highway. The original plans called for the creation of not only Government Center but also a parking deck, and I believe a civic center was also discussed. In the early 70's the project was scrapped as being too expensive but a few years later Mayor Driscoll green lighted the plans again and Government Center was dedicated in 1976.

Of course, shortly after it was completed problems arose. The heating system was inadequate, windows popped out of their frames and the brickwork on the stairs crumpled. These mishaps sealed the building's reputation, but are probably more due to who did the work than to any flaw in the design.

Even with the building looking the best it has in decades there are a few troubling stories in the paper. Concrete or debris has hit two motorists on the highway below. One motorist was severely injured. Inspections to the tunnel under the building, which is not part of Government Center and is the State's responsibility to repair and maintain, show no signs of anything falling from there. This has led to the belief that someone may have thrown the debris from the plaza above. I think we need to strongly consider installing cameras around Government Center or at the very least hiring security to be on site at least until the construction work is completed.

Now, we find out that the Retirement Board is moving out of Government Center for larger digs. The interesting thing is that for years the board has never been required to pay rent. That has changed with the Correia administration. I wonder if it's because the building no longer looks post apocalyptic. Now I know the story is supposed to be about the Board moving to a building owned by Anthony Corderio and that the price per square foot is a bit high for Fall River's downtown. What I'm wondering is what should be the policy for renting space to quasi government agencies? If these agencies are supposed to serve us, the citizens, does it make sense to look for market value? It's really just robbing Peter to pay Paul. What if other agencies decide to shop around for space? Now their just spending part of their budget for space and the money is coming back to the city! I can understand charging rent to cover expenses, pay for maintenance and maybe to help cover remodeling costs. I could see charging market rates if the city needed space and was forced to rent downtown space itself. In that case charging market rates would help recoup costs. Otherwise any rent charged seems to be counter productive.

With the exterior work almost completed we finally have a City Hall we can be proud of. The question is can we proud of the leadership and decisions being made inside?