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Winter Park to unveil modernized City Hall

Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight shows some new screens up on the City Commission dais in the renovated City Hall, which will officially reopen Aug. 27.

Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight shows some new screens up on the City Commission dais in the renovated City Hall, which will officially reopen Aug. 27.

Isaac Babcock

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The last time Winter Park built a city hall, America’s sense of style verged on psychadelia, computers were a rarely seen office oddity and cigarettes were as popular as the Beatles.

A stroll through the Aug. 16, 1964, issue of the Orlando Sentinel’s Florida Magazine bade readers welcome to Winter Park’s city hall of the future, just about the time America was dreaming of going to the moon.

The colors were all perfectly coordinated, a swinging 1960s palette of fire-kindled oranges, yellows and reds, right down to the matching ashtrays on the stained hardwood desks. Walls glowed awash in mixed-media art. High-efficiency fluorescent lights hummed in suspended light fixtures above. And a new state-of-the-art air-conditioner saved employees from the swampy summer swelter.

On Aug. 27, all that will have been replaced, though most of it already was. That day the city will welcome visitors to the new vision of Winter Park City Hall, fast-forwarded nearly half a century from the colorful days that gave birth to Pink Floyd and pony cars. After $2.2 million in upgrades — with the help of a $687,000 federal grant — the building is finally ready for its big close up.

“Welcome to the new City Hall,” Communications Director Clarissa Howard said, opening the doors for a preview a few days early, as a dark stone floor fanned out into a spacious entryway. Gone is the frenzied hustle of a handful of busy clerks and cash registers greeting visitors a few feet inside the door. It’s all replaced by an open hall and an unusual curved desk with Administrative Assistant Juanita Grant ready to greet visitors on the other side.

Deeper inside, the kaleidoscopic color scheme of yesteryear is also gone, replaced by sedate grays and off-white, along with more modern desks and high-tech touchscreen projector equipment for conference rooms. But there are still a few old-school touches. Faux wood paneling still adorns almost every door. Nostalgic residents stopping by a City Commission meeting will notice the upstairs foyer, with towering granite and laminate walls, still looks transplanted from the set of AMC’s “Mad Men.”

And those looking for the full effect can still stop by the planning director’s office.

“Jeff Briggs’ office is still retro,” Public Works Director Troy Attaway said.

During the transition, the building never lost its cool, though the original air-conditioning system that looked like a relic of the steam age has been replaced.

“We were having to manufacture parts for it,” City Manager Randy Knight said of the original Trane air-conditioning system that still operated inside the building 50 years later. “They didn’t make the replacement parts anymore.”

Now it’s a high-tech system of ice water and automatic damper doors in the ceilings regulating airflow silently, chilled by two massive cooling units hidden in bedroom-sized closets on the second floor.

That system was also most of the impetus for the renovation of the building, which had reached its stylistic peak before some of the city staff were born but had remained functional thanks to continuing upgrades.

Early on, the city’s police department operated out of the L-shaped building’s west wing, jail included. Now that part of the building, that at one point jumped from one story to two to accommodate more employees, brims with billing and utility offices.

A grand re-opening celebration for Winter Park City Hall will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27. Residents and visitors are invited to join city officials for the festivities, which will include a special ceremony at 1:45 p.m., live music and refreshments. City Hall is located at 401 S. Park Ave. in downtown Winter Park. Visit cityofwinterpark.org or call 407-599-3399.

And as technology leapt forward through electronic typewriters, word processors, touch tone phones, fax machines and the Internet, City Hall kept up, even as it burst at the seams and watched electric use soar.

That air-conditioning system, along with higher-efficiency lighting and a few other tweaks, will help combine to save the city $30,000-40,000 in electric bills per year, Knight said. That includes a system that turns on lights when it detects someone entering a room.

“If you fall asleep at your desk, it turns the lights off,” Knight joked.

Employees will have to keep busy if they want to find funding for the building’s replacement down the line. The renovation is intended to carry it on another 10 years or until the city can afford a completely new building.

That’s not a firm timeline, Knight said. And funding remains up in the air.

“Unless we start socking away some serious cash, we’ll need a voter referendum to pay for it,” he said.

That’s something he hopes the city won’t have to do. Back in 1964, they didn’t, as the headline in Florida Magazine read: “The building was paid for before it was started.”

And it stood the test of time.

“They built it right,” Knight said.