Columbus’ city hall renovation project is closing in on the finish line.
Jeff Johnson, project manager with J5 Broaddus, said the $1.3 million project should be substantially complete by Christmas, leaving only minor touches in places. The construction contract for Starkville-based general contractor Craddock Construction runs through Jan. 9. For the most part, the project’s heaviest work is done, leaving only walls, floors and fixtures to be completed.
The project, funded and overseen by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, seeks to restore much of the 113-year-old city hall on Main Street to its original condition. Johnson said the project has been a tall, but fulfilling, order.
“It’s like giving your grandma a makeover and turning her from 113 years old back to 20,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he’s particularly happy to see the building’s original heartwood pine floors restored, even though they had been covered by layers of carpet, tile and plywood.
One of the project’s challenges, Johnson said, is crews have to work within an existing structure. Sometimes, as the building was gutted out to make room for the renovations’ improvements, workers discovered that the some things weren’t built as anticipated. For example, an air duct had to be rerouted down a hallway due the domed top of a vault near the mayor’s office.
The solution itself was simple, but Johnson pointed out, because of the nature of the renovation project, it requires teamwork on behalf of the constructions crews, MDAH — which has to approve any changes to the historic building — and the city of Columbus.
Site manager Justin Wilkinson, with Craddock Construction, said he’s glad to see the project coming along. He said it comes with its own challenges as a major historic renovation. For example, he said some things have to be special ordered to restore the building to how it was in the original construction.
“You do tend to see some things on this type of work that you wouldn’t otherwise, so I find that very interesting, personally,” he said. “I like seeing different techniques.”
Mayor Robert Smith said he’s been very pleased to see the building progressing as it has. City staff will probably begin moving back into city hall in late January, he added.
He said the major renovation is the first of its kind for the old building, and MDAH and state legislators, especially District 39 Rep. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus), were instrumental in leading efforts to launch the project.
“Since 1903, there have been some Band-Aid approaches — a little repair here, a little repair there — but this is the first time since the building was constructed that it has fully had a total renovation,” Smith said. “It will be an asset to the community, and representatives from Archives and History have said that they will use it as a model across the Mississippi.”
Johnson said he’s consistently impressed by the craftsmanship that went into the building’s original construction. As an example, he pointed out that plaster can be put up in sheets using expanded metal now, but it would’ve had to been done by hand in 1903, one wooden slat at time.
“It’s remarkable,” he said. “We’ve got a tool or machine that can do anything today. These cats were using chisels, axes and draw knives to put this main structure together. …Can you imagine how long it took to nail each one of those up?”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.