The Ottumwa Courier

October 6, 2012

Steps taken to improve City Hall

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — It may not have been an easy project, but officials say they are pleased with the results of the main City Hall entrance.

“It gives a real good impression to visitors,” said Ottumwa Mayor Frank Flanders during a ceremony Friday.

City planner Dave Shafer called the Ottumwa City Hall entrance reconstruction project “extremely complex.” But they knew that going in. While under discussion 18 months ago, Shafer told the City Council what they were in for.

“Each component of the bridge and stairway (to the entrance) needs to be taken apart piece by piece,” Shafer said. “Each stone would then be measured and be ordered to that size.”

Shafer said every element has suffered significant deterioration due to water freezing, then thawing, then freezing over the course of 100 years. Additionally, the entire vault area of the entrance would need to be deconstructed with individual stone pieces being sent to match existing stone and color of the City Hall entrance.

Contractors were able to take the steps away, refurbish the original steps themselves and put them back on the entryway staircase.

The extensive stonework to the City Hall entrance was about $450,000, with about $230,000 coming from I-Jobs money. When the ribbon was cut to officially open the entrance on Fourth Street, the Evans Middle School marching band began playing the “Theme from Rocky.”

Contractor Rick Grooms of Grooms Construction described the job like an adventure, and told Friday’s audience it was an honor to work on the project. The building, originally a federal courthouse, was built from 1910-11.

“It’s a very significant, extensive project to complete,” Shafer said.

Tom Rodgers, city public information officer, had said their plans go back to the original architectural drawings from around 1909. Yet there were items, like a historic well, not listed on the 100-year-old plans.

Because of all the surprises, the job didn’t always go as quickly as anticipated. So Grooms on Friday apologized to the staff because he had told the ladies on the third floor that he was starting a “one-week demolition” project.

Rodgers, he said, had the difficult job of explaining why Grooms was still out there four weeks later with the entry blocked off.  

Grooms and staff found some surprises, a hollowed-out part of the wall, an old horseshoe and the well, which nobody knew was there. The hole was on the  ground floor beneath the Fourth Street steps. It had been covered with a manhole cover.

The well caught the attention of the public last year, and even Grooms, who has seen a lot of historical things in his career, found it interesting.  

The well extended nearly three stories below the ground.

“That’s the riverbed down there,” Grooms told the Courier at the time. “A well is quite unusual, [but what] is not unusual on a job like this is to find unique things.”