Public has say on making old school a new City Hall

HUDSON–An architect hired by the city presented images last week of how the school district’s now-closed John L. Edwards School building (JLE) might look with city offices and additional facilities in it.

The presentation, at a public forum September 30, comes after the Hudson City School District Board of Education closed the school last summer and now seeks to sell the building on State Street.

Hudson officials have been interested in moving City Hall to a site with more space and easier wheelchair access. The architect, Mark Thaler, reported that his firm, Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson, was “charged with doing a feasibility study” on the city buying the JLE for that purpose. This hearing dealt with concepts and visions; the financial implications will receive attention October 15 at a Common Council meeting.

“I’m just showing you possibilities; nothing is set in stone,” Mr. Thaler said.

Topics covered included additional building users, location of the Common Council chambers, landscaping, and atmosphere/feeling. Hudson Common Council President Tom DePietro introduced Mr. Thaler.

Proposals envision the JLE building—tentatively to be renamed the Hudson Civic Center– containing all Hudson City offices currently at City Hall on Warren Street, plus the Code Enforcement Office, the Senior Citizens Center, and the Youth Center. But even with all of them, Mr. Thaler said, the building has more than enough room for additional users.

Suggestions, he reported, include “family oriented, civic oriented functions,” such as day care, preschools, after school programs, a jobs center, family services, community meeting space, apprentice training rooms, and “maker space.” A maker space, as Mr. Thaler defined it, would be a large room with advanced tools and machines where people from the community can come and do crafts, woodworking, pottery and cooking projects.

“There are a lot of affordable housing issues in Hudson,” said architect Matthew Frederick, who was in the audience. “Is the unassigned space in this building suitable for potential housing?”

“We didn’t look at it this way,” said Mr. Thaler.

Proposals envision the former school’s auditorium as a place for large meetings, community events, and rentals for private events. Its proximity to the kitchen is a plus.

The presentation shows the Common Council Chamber would on the top floor.

“I’m surprised that the old auditorium was not proposed for the Common Council chamber,” said Mr. Frederick. “The Common Council Chamber is the heart of City Hall, and the auditorium is the heart of this building.”

“Your point is well taken,” said Mr. Thaler. However, since the auditorium is so close to the main entrance, if the Common Council uses that space, “We’ll need permanent fixtures to discourage people from hanging out around there,” he said.

Mr. Thaler said that if the Common Council does decide to use the auditorium, “You could raise the ceiling.”

He also cited the importance of landscaping, and called the “backdrop with a lot of trees” on one side of the building “a good visual break.” For that side of the building he envisioned enlarging windows and adding an outdoor deck. Grounds could be made into athletic fields and nature trails.

“The woodland setting should be preserved,” said a man. “Make it a public park.”

“This is a city hall,” said Mr. Frederick. “It needs to present itself looking like a city hall. Even the current city hall, despite its limitations, feels like something important.”

The JLE building “screams elementary school,” said a member of the audience.

“You’ll need signage to identify it from State Street, because” the old library building hides it, said another man in the audience. The old library is now owned by the Galvan Foundation.

The JLE building has four levels, labeled A through D from bottom to top. The main entrance is on level C. The two bottom levels, A and B, are above ground only in the back of the building. One scheme has all city offices on level D, “but there is no reason why they can’t be located on level C.”

Mr. Thaler’s diagrams envision level C with an entrance lobby and the Senior Citizens’ Center and level A—with a new, small playground outside—with daycare. The youth center would use both part of level B and the gymnasium already in level A.

The JLE site is more the center of the city than the current City Hall, said Mr. DePietro. He used a map of the whole city, not just the inner grid, to illustrate his point.

The JLE building at the intersection of State, Fourth and Carroll streets is only a block and a half west and two blocks north of the current City Hall.

How long will the building last, asked a woman. JLE, opened in 1964 and many of the buildings built at that time were thought to have a brief lifespan. But “not this building,” said Mr. Thaler, adding, “It was built as a fallout shelter.”

An audience member wanted to know how accessible the building is to people with disabilities. Mr. Thaler responded that building is accessible now and that it could be made more accessible.

Mr. Thaler also said the parking lot had 72 spaces, and 50 additional spaces across State Street from the old library.

“What are the odds that the building will be sold out [from] under the city?” asked an audience member. According one person at the hearing, potential buyers have looked at the property.

Any offer to sell it would require approval by the Board of Education.

Hudson school board Clerk Leslie Coons said by phone October 3 that the property has had “no offer that I’m aware of.”

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