To address sinking Fishers City Hall, officials consider $20.8 million new building

Fishers City Hall has been sinking since it was built in 1991, so city officials are thinking they may rebuild the structure at 1 Municipal Drive. (IBJ Photo | Kurt Christian)

Fishers City Hall has been sinking into the ground for nearly 30 years, and the growing cost of mitigating that damage has some city officials convinced it’s time to rebuild.

Illinois-based engineering firm WJE provided the city of Fishers with an inspection report last month on the two-story, wood-framed building at 1 Municipal Drive. First built in 1991, the western portion of the structure almost immediately began to settle.

“We started to have some failure early on,” Fishers Deputy Mayor Elliott Hultgren said. “The soil is unsuitable for the structure.”

City officials tried to stop the sinking and address the damage it had caused in 1994 and in 2013 but there continues to be movement to this day. WJE found the city can pay $2.5 million over the next three years to maintain the building but not fix the problem, or it could pay up to $20.8 million to demolish the building and build a new three-story, steel-framed one in its place.

It’s unclear whether the $20.8 million includes soil remediation or whether that would even be necessary with a new building.

The city has spent $1.67 million over the past five years on the roughly 37,000-square-foot building where 20-35 city employees work on a given day. Currently, the Fishers City Hall houses offices for the mayor and the city’s administration, customer experience, planning and zoning, economic development, engineering and communications departments.

Employees in the controller, city clerk, permitting and information technology departments were moved to the former police station at 3 Municipal Drive a couple years ago when that space became available.

Those office workers and visitors to city hall can see the sinking’s effect on the building in its cracked walls and floors, in the gaps between its beams and in the 2013 exterior updates that are beginning to crumble and fail.

In addition to those structural issues, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said there is a “laundry list” of other recommended maintenance projects that compound the issue. Already, the city has planned to spend nearly $300,000 this year to replace flooring, doors and windows. That doesn’t even include recommended repairs to the damaged roof trusses and structural inspections that would push this year’s total past $430,000.

Ashley Elrod, the city’s community and public relations director, said a steel-framed building will be more structurally sound than the current wood-framed structure. Also, new construction would be accompanied by additional soil borings and other measures to ensure the foundation is placed on a more-solid footing.

After he and Hultgren consulted the city council and found support for rebuilding the structure, Fadness said he’s asked the city’s legal team to consider pausing its ongoing contracts so the city can consider building a new “city hall plus.”

“We may just have to live with plastic on our windows for a little longer,” Fadness said.

Fadness said he’s planning to work on a financial and developmental strategy this summer to present to the council in early fall. City Hall won’t necessarily need a larger administrative footprint, he said, but he believes a design with greater efficiencies could open up room for new community offerings.

That could take the shape of a fine arts center or an expansion of the auditorium where the Fishers City Council meets. Whatever the proposed building would contain, Fadness said he believes it should remain in the same location and praised former city leaders for creating the city’s current municipal plaza.

“I don’t believe we should relocate city hall from the heart of the city,” he said. “This is where a civic institution belongs.”

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15 thoughts on “To address sinking Fishers City Hall, officials consider $20.8 million new building

  1. 1. Who were the architect and engineers back in 1991? No E&O here?
    2. Who built the building back in 1991?
    3. What were the construction costs back in 1991?
    4. And, why would a 37,000 sf city building be $20.8m? Even with ~$1.0-$2.0m in demo and remediation, that still makes the build costs over $500/sf.

    1. Because with govt and hospitals, hammers cost $5000 and aspirin are $100 each

    2. I’m sure the new City Hall will include multiple pizzerias which will drive up the cost substantially. As we all know – Keep Bringing the Pizza, Scotty!!!!

    3. Vincent G, all good questions!

      At $500/sf, it better have marble walls and terrazzo floors, but that said, a private project, the Cummins headquarters building in downtown Indy, with space for 400 workers, cost $30 Million. A government project, the one story transit center across the street cost $20 million. Both were built at roughly the same time.

    1. Workplace design studies calculate that the average office space needed per employee is 75 to 150 square feet. This does not include lobby/reception space, meeting rooms, break room(s), rest rooms, storage space, or hallways/corridors. It is unclear to me whether the estimated size of a new City Hall is only for the 30 employees who currently work in the existing building, or will include the return of the employees in the controller, city clerk, permitting, and information technology departments – or account for an expected growth in the number of employees as the suburb’s population and needs expand. You want fast, good, and cheap? Pick two, because that’s all you can ever get.

    2. City Halls have to include a medium sized auditorium for public meetings. No one works there, and it costs a lot to build and furnish.

      In addition, public offices have to accommodate visitors, public services, and (historical, if not current) paper records.

  2. For those talking numbers — This is Fishers, so if history repeats, then the initial estimate of $20.8m means residents will be lucky if it comes out less than $30 million.

  3. Interesting comments, but as tongue n’ cheek Mike M was regarding prospect of a pool, his comment comes closer to what all of us might be concerned as to root cause of subsidence. Fishers building standards and layered permit process is very thorough. Soil testing is one of the early basic requirements before proceeding. What significant issue went undetected during do diligence would be of concern to all building owners in the area.

  4. Public construction is inherently more expensive due to the statutes governing how it must be done. Those laws are largely intended to promote competition and avoid fraud and graft, but at the same time place layers of requirements on public entities which drive costs up.

  5. Of COURSE Fadness wants to build a new City Hall! It’s more opportunity for him to “leave his legacy” on the city, and spend more of our money! This is a city administration that can’t seem to create a budget for any major project that they can even remotely stick to, so if they’re saying it would cost $20.8 million to build a new City Hall, you can bet it will be close to $40 million by the time they get done with it. Just look at the State Road 37 project and the Nickel Plate Trail project.

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