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Law library at center of Milwaukee City Hall renovation debate

The Office of the City Attorney’s former law library (above) on the eighth floor of Milwaukee City Hall is empty Friday except for books and old files, and a note (left) indicates which bookshelves are to be saved. The office’s 2015 capital improvements request to continue renovating the eighth floor so attorneys can move back in has rekindled a disagreement among aldermen about the use of the former library. (Staff photos by Kevin Harnack)

The Office of the City Attorney’s former law library on the eighth floor of Milwaukee City Hall is empty Friday except for books and old files. The office’s 2015 capital improvements request to continue renovating the eighth floor so attorneys can move back in has rekindled a disagreement among aldermen about the use of the former library. (Staff photos by Kevin Harnack)

The clocks have stopped inside the former offices of Milwaukee’s city attorney, but flakes of plaster that have drifted from the ceiling generally mark the passage of time.

Water stains marble the walls. Coffee mugs are abandoned on desks. Scraps of paper indicate which bookcases are to be saved for attorneys who have not returned.

The Office of the City Attorney moved out of the eighth floor in 2006 due to water damage.

Eight years later, the attorneys are still in the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building next door, said Alderman Joe Dudzik, and it is time for their return.

Clashing opinions over the use of a former law library on the eighth floor have threatened to stall the renovation.

But Dudzik said he will fight to include money in the 2015 budget to continue the project.

“The way it’s going,” Dudzik said, “it’ll be another two or three years, which is crazy.”

The 2014 city budget included $1,758,000 to demolish walls on the eighth floor and to make other preparations. The project’s second phase, a $1,937,300 request for the 2015 capital budget, would mark the beginning of construction.

But Aldermen Robert Bauman and Nik Kovac, both members of the city’s Capital Improvements Committee, expressed dismay Thursday when they learned that preliminary blueprints for the renovation show offices rather than public space at the site of the former law library. Including public space had been discussed before the 2014 request was approved. Bauman and Kovac said the space would be ideal for special events.

After the disagreement during Thursday’s meeting, Bauman said he might propose the second phase of the renovation be put on hold.

Private law firms sometimes include public meeting space, Bauman said Friday, so his request of the city attorney is not outlandish.

a note (left) indicates which bookshelves are to be saved. The office’s 2015 capital improvements request to continue renovating the eighth floor so attorneys can move back in has rekindled a disagreement among aldermen about the use of the former library.

A note indicates which bookshelves are to be saved inside the law library.

“If it works at Foley & Lardner,” Bauman said, “it can work at the city attorney’s office.”

But it shouldn’t have to, Dudzik said, adding that the city attorney should not be forced to leave some of his staff at the municipal building just to duplicate public space that already exists in the building.

Leaning against the balustrade on the third floor of City Hall, he pointed down to the open floor of the rotunda.

“That looks like a pretty big piece of real estate for a public event,” he said.

Michael Krause, architectural project manager for the city, said his team is only reviewing the blueprints for the eighth floor, so not much has been decided beyond generalities.

“This is the first day we’re pulling the project out,” he said, “after years of being on hold.”

Krause said his office might not be able to get started on design for another month at least. The general plan, he said, is to build each of the 39 attorneys a private office and to put support staff members in cubicles.

Paul Fredrich, Milwaukee’s facilities manager, said the size of those private offices will vary but can be smaller than existing ones because attorneys do not need to store as much paper anymore.

Two windows flank a section of water damaged wall in the City Attorney’s Friday, April 4 on the eighth floor of Milwaukee City Hall. The Office of the City Attorney’s 2015 capital improvements request to continue renovating the space has rekindled a disagreement among aldermen about the future use of some space on the eighth floor. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Two windows flank a section of water-damaged wall in the city attorney’s office Friday.

The space that Bauman and Kovac want to use for receptions is earmarked for six offices, a conference room and a reception area.

Alderman Terry Witkowski said that design makes more sense than leaving the room open for events.

“It’s not all that scenic, and the view’s not all that great,” he said, mentioning the decorative terra cotta that partially obscures the bottom portion of the windows.

He said he would support a budget amendment with Dudzik if the Capital Improvements Committee does not recommend approving the $1.9 million.

“I think we need to provide what’s needed,” Witkowski said, “for these people to do their jobs.”

About Beth Kevit

Beth Kevit is the Milwaukee city beat reporter and also covers real estate. She can be reached at beth.kevit@dailyreporter.com or 414-225-1820.

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