Mount Pleasant planning ‘monumental’ Town Hall

This wood model of Mount Pleasant’s new Town Hall is under glass inside the current Town Hall’s lobby. File

MOUNT PLEASANT — South Carolina’s fourth-largest municipality hasn’t had a home specifically built for its government for decades.

That will change in just a few years when a new Town Hall is built where the current one now stands — a $30 million project that will give this rapidly growing town a new public face.

On Monday, Town Council’s Bids and Purchases Committee is expected to review and recommend a $22 million contract with McKnight Construction Co. Inc. of Augusta to build the new 95,000-square-foot building — almost double the size of the town’s current home.

If approved, work could begin in June or July and finish three years later.

The contract caps a years-long process of searching for the best site for a new hall and then deciding exactly what it should look like.

Councilman Mark Smith, who chairs the town Bids and Purchases Committee, said he doesn’t expect much controversy over the contract. McKnight Construction was the low bidder, and many of its subcontractors are local.

Still, when approved, this will be the single largest contract for a building awarded in the town’s history. “It’s going to be monumental,” he said. “We’re making history. It’s an incredible building.”

Sam Herin of Stubbs Muldrow Herin Architects Inc. said the design was based in part on the town’s mission statement to serve the public, and its biggest features will be a spacious lobby envisioned as a gathering place and a drum-shaped council chambers — the part to be seen most clearly from Houston Northcutt Boulevard.

“When the council is meeting, they’re front and center,” he said. “They’re not hidden on the back of the campus.”

The town collected public input online, and Herin said he has received little negative feedback. The project’s most contentious aspect was resolved years ago, when council elected to rebuild Town Hall on its current site rather than buy a more centrally located property.

“We really want it to feel like it’s the public’s building,” said Town Administrator Eric DeMoura, who has served as the project manager. “So when you walk in, there’s a much larger lobby space than there is now.”

That lobby also will serve as spillover space for the council chambers, which will have 184 seats for audience members, only slightly more than the current chambers.

The town’s Planning Department already has moved to temporary quarters on the town’s Six Mile public works property off Sweetgrass Basket Parkway. Public Services’ headquarters soon will move to a temporary home there, too, while the Fire Department headquarters will be in a trailer at the Paul Foster Road fire station.

The construction will occur in stages, beginning with demolition of most of the current campus and construction of a new three-story building. Once that is opened and occupied, crews will demolish the remaining buildings, such as the gym, current council chambers and administrative offices.

Those properties will be replaced with parking areas and a small park along Houston Northcutt. The last piece will be construction of a double gymnasium on the site.

Herin said the phasing of demolition and new building on the same site was one of the biggest challenges, but the challenge also led to the decision to feature a new public park on the site.

To root the building in Mount Pleasant, its brick color — a reddish brown — will closely resemble the 19th-century bricks once manufactured here. Inside, its interior wood will be a mixture of maple and cherry, a color contrast meant to evoke the town’s rich tradition of sweetgrass baskets.

“It’s not an in-your-face contemporary architecture,” Herin said. “But we wanted it to be contemporary enough to be forward looking, that it be of its time and not a historical replication. It’s contemporary in a sense, but it uses traditional proportions and materials and things that people are comfortable with.”

The current Town Hall complex was built as a school and an engineer’s office, though a 2000 addition was built for the police department. Before that, the town’s offices were in an old Berkeley County building that was previously converted for church use.

DeMoura said the greatest challenge was to make sure the building would meet the future needs of the growing town’s many departments. It is designed to last 75 years, but the site has room for further expansion.

While town officials worried the current economic upswing would drive bids up beyond the town’s budget, that didn’t occur. Instead, the biggest challenge with the bids was vetting the subcontractors to ensure they were capable of doing the job. The town’s procurement code allows it to reject proposed subcontractors.

Mayor Linda Page said the new Town Hall “is truly going to be a civic building,” one that doesn’t have to cut design corners because the space was built originally for something else.

“It’s just going to be so much more accommodating to our citizens and to the needs of the staff,” she said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of ‘Pardon our mess’ signs around in the short term, but we’ll get through it just fine.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.