County commissioners voted 4-0, with commissioner Robert Anaya absent, to approve space allocation for county departments at the respective sites about two blocks apart from each other in downtown Santa Fe and to do it for about $6 million more than the baseline estimate.
“It might cost more, but it will be well worth it,” said Commission Chairman Miguel Chavez, who added that restoration of what’s already being called the “old administration building” was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Restoration of the nearly 80-year-old building on Grant Street will involve taking out an addition constructed in the 1970s to re-establish a small plaza area, or placita, on the north side of the building facing Johnson Street.
Nancy Meem Wirth, daughter of the renowned architect John Gaw Meem who designed the building, said recreating the placita would bring the building back to close to its original look and would enhance the work environment by filling the space with light and air. She said the building would then have even more appeal as a tourist attraction and as an example of a New Deal-era building. The building is already listed on the State Register of Cultural Properties and the National Register of Historic Places.
County Manager Katherine Miller said the county could afford to pay a little extra for the construction, in part thanks to savings realized by paying off bonds early. She said most of the project will be paid for through $25 million in bonds approved by the commission in December and $7 million in capital outlay appropriation from three years ago. A loan to complete the project could be considered later, she said.
The price tag could be trimmed by $1.5 million if the county doesn’t go through with construction of an underground parking area, which Miller said was the staff’s recommendation. She said she has been in discussions with the city about leasing underground parking space for the county’s fleet at the nearby convention center. During previous public hearings on the project, members of the First Presbyterian Church, a landmark church that has existed in the neighborhood for 150 years, expressed concerns about how the property will be used and parking availability.
According to Mark Hogan of the city’s Public Works Department, the next step is schematic design. Construction at the former county courthouse is scheduled to begin in late 2017 and be completed in 2019. Restoration of the old administrative building will begin after that and isn’t due to be completed until 2020.