Novato's new administrative complex has been a dream for city employees for decades.
A little over a week ago, the dream was finally realized when staff moved into the 2-story facility on Machin Avenue after a seven year absence from downtown.
Work is expected to last until January, but staff say the complex represents a new chapter for the city. The courtyard outside could be used to host various community events, such as the farmer's market or the annual Paint the Town Red event, acting as a center piece for Novato.
"People talk about creating a town square in Novato and we think that this accomplishes that goal," City Manager Michael Frank said.
The exterior of the 19,000 square foot building is painted the same berry red as the town hall with its signature rooster on the steeple. Meanwhile, the space inside is light and airy, with plenty of windows and sky lights. A glass railing stretches from the first floor to the second, a symbol of the transparency the city takes seriously, according to Frank.
Departments have been better integrated, with Planning, Building Inspection and Code Enforcement in one area.
"It just creates a smoother experience, whereas before people had to go floor to floor," Frank said.
On the second floor, a long table with bar stools serves as a space where visitors can work or read while waiting for an appointment. As for parking, eight spots are available street level (with an hour time restriction) and 26 spots in the basement, available to residents between 5pm and 9am.
The construction and furnishing of the new complex cost the city $14.5 million, but most of the cost was covered by a refund from the Novato Redevelopment Agency, which formerly oversaw the transformation of blighted or undeveloped areas into productive economic areas before being phased out this year.
The city is borrowing $800,000 from the Vehicle Replacement Fund to pay for the rest of the project, after costs increased, in part because the city apparently never budgeted for a contingency fee, typically paid at the end of a project.
Some residents have criticized the project as unnecessary and even wasteful, including spending $440,000 on new furniture.
"Why does the city need almost half a million on new furniture?" said reader Dave Robertson. "This isn't Beverly Hills! The city justifies this because it is all indirectly funded through a bond measure. But that is still borrowing and spending money that needs to be paid back."
Frank and the council have defended the construction, saying the new complex is actually cheaper than the $750,000 a year the city was paying to lease space at 75 Rowland Way. Novato also considered refurbishing an existing downtown building, but concluded that it would spend the same amount as building from scratch. Instead, it opted for a venue that would serve Novato for the next 50 years.
Have you been inside the new city administrative complex? What do you think?