No firm price for restoring historical integrity at Savannah City Hall

Local News

An advisory committee will be spearheading a proposal for restoring Savannah City Hall.

The group will be comprised of staff already employed by the city working in departments such as municipal archives, building maintenance, sustainability, and planning & urban design.

To get this far, the city needed a rough estimate for the restoration which came in at $2.8 million — but there are no firm estimates or formal bids yet.

At least one cosmetic concern, the fissured mosaic floor in the foyer, may indicate a deeper, structural problem. 

Safety concerns include an open power box on the second floor.

“This is a hazard to just have this open,” Luciana Spracher, Director of Municipal Archives, said of one area. “So security does not let people up here the rest of the time unattended, but it’s kind of hard to monitor everybody during a council meeting.”

Another project listed on the restoration is adjusting the metal detector and security system.

“We have to have security in a government building but we need to incorporate the security without overtaking the space,” said Spracher.

On a tour of the first two floors with Spracher, she pointed out water stained walls, exposed plumbing, cracks in the plaster walls. She showed News 3 the wear and tear on the wood baseboards, capitals on columns that have spontaneously chipped off because the 112-year-old glue is so old.

Spracher says City Maintenance has worked diligently to preserve the rare, ornate, hardwoods in the council chamber, but even with money provided by a grant, the floors are not getting the best care and are simply being stripped away.

Other concerns in the initial report, presented to council members on Nov. 5 were missing glass globes on light fixtures, lost finials on light pendants that were replaced with cardboard imposters and absent tiles on the mosaic floors.

Spracher says its mostly common wear and tear.

“So, little things that have just happened over time, that we just need to address now,” she said. “It was built to be a building for a century to come, we’ve now exceeded that century, so now we’re just planning and preparing to make sure it lasts for another century and more.” 

She points to the council chamber drapes which were installed in the 1970s. The rough estimate given council members includes replacing the curtains with the original building plans which called for wood blind coverings. 

The building is a magnet for history and architectural tourists and students. A pair of Savannah College of Art & Design professors makes this City Hall a class tour each quarter. Online travel guides rank it as a site worth seeing when visiting historic Savannah. 

Spracher says some people call ahead for a guided tour, while others stop in suddenly.

“We have a lot of passersby who are drawn to this building with a gold dome, they are walking by and they are like, what’s that? And they stop in and check it out,” she said, adding, “This building has become so iconic today.” 

The team advocating for this restoration are investigating creative solutions to its’ funding — including grants or donors.

“Our lovely gold dome came from a donor, Mills B Lane,” said Spracher.

Right now, there are no identified benefactors or fundraising groups for this historical restoration project.

Savannah’s City Hall is in the heart of the city, at the spine of the Historic District. “It’s a crown. It’s right there in the center of our Historic District. So I think it’s a very important symbol of Savannah,” Spracher concluded. 

Knowing several other city departments are requesting a budget bump, Spracher said:  “I think it’s up to our elected officials and our city manager to balance the needs of the community. So, all I can do is present our problem and now it’s up to our elected officials, our leaders and our citizens to decide how to balance those needs.”

For more on the history of Savannah City Hall, visit:

http://www.savannahga.gov/557/City-Hall-Tours

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