Former Alamo Heights City Councilmember Bill Kiel strolled through the hallways of the new Alamo Heights municipal complex Thursday morning. He and his wife, Pam, and dozens of fellow residents and special guests toured the facility after city leaders hosted a formal grand opening.
Perusing the conference room, one of many state-of-the-art rooms and offices at the complex, Kiel’s comment could best sum up the sentiments of many Alamo Heights residents: “It’s been a long time coming.”
The two-story municipal complex, which measures more than 26,400 sq. ft., stands at 6116 Broadway and 6120 Broadway, where the old city hall facility was located. It includes the police and fire stations, public works, council chambers, city court and administrative offices.
Construction began in September 2013, funded by a $6.3 million bond approved by local voters in November 2011.
The new building, spacious and technologically advanced, is a far cry from the former Alamo Heights municipal complex, where space for administrators and public safety personnel was cramped and lacked modern amenities and technology. The original city hall and police station were constructed in phases starting in 1927, not long after the city was incorporated, with the last update coming in 2003.
The fire station was built in 1952 and saw several additions. The council chambers/courtroom was a room so small that, at times, attendees in a packed public meeting had difficulty seeing the council, City staff or a speaker at the podium.
Things were more dicey for fire department personnel. City Manager Mark Browne recalled sleeping one night in the old fire station to see how firefighters dealt with the conditions.
“It was bad,” recalled Mayor Louis Cooper at the grand opening ceremony Thursday, speaking in the much larger fire station with room enough for chairs for attendees and a reception area. The firefighters sleep two to a dorm-type room on the second-floor level of the fire station, which includes a spacious kitchen/breakroom where a window overlooks the interior vehicle bay, and an outdoor balcony with a barbecue grill. There are five dorm rooms, each with comfortable beds and a flat-screen television set.
Browne’s firefighters’ quarters experiment took place a few years ago when Alamo Heights officials and residents debated to what extent a new municipal complex should be developed and, more importantly, how much money should be spent on it and the source for the funds. In 2009, voters rejected a $10 million bond proposal for a new city hall facility.
Following that bond failure, city leaders worked as closely as possible with community input to pare down the project to a point where it and a new bond proposal finally won public acceptance.
During construction, administrative offices and public meetings were relocated to an office space in a San Antonio retail strip on Austin Highway near Terrell Hills. The firefighters and police officers remained in Alamo Heights for the duration, near the city hall site even as workers took down the old building and put up the new one.
“We never stopped, it was ongoing, piece by piece,” Cooper said.
Overland Partners designed the complex, which was built by Joeris General Contractors. Not all the bills have been paid, but Browne said the city will end up spending $7.3-7.4 million on the project, within the final construction budget. Cooper said the size of the overall property’s footprint did not leave much room for error.
“This was an extremely hard project to build. The crews had no extra space to do anything,” he added. But even as issues arose during construction, with many of them pushing back the move-in date for the city, officials remained resilient and optimistic.
Browne thanked his department heads, each of whom had a role in staying on top of the project and providing input on how the facility should finish out in the way of infrastructure and security. He praised the architects for the design, especially for the courtyard that links the administrative offices and meeting rooms with the fire station.
“I remember the day when the mayor and I met with Overland and we went down to the old (Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church) to take a look at their courtyard,” he said. “That was the inspiration for the courtyard you see here.”
Although city employees started to move into the new facility late last year, even while finishing touches were being applied, Thursday marked – as former Councilman Kiel said – a day that was long in the making. Special guests touring the facilities included current and former officials from Olmos Park and Terrell Hills, former San Antonio Mayor Howard Peak, and representatives of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. Cooper also thanked the city staff for its hard work.
“We on council have an easy job when you have a great city staff,” he added. “They did all the heavy lifting.
*Featured/top image: The new Alamo Heights municipal complex. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.