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Oriental's New (Old) Town Hall
Bill Sage, Oriental Mayor, On The Town Hall
February 6, 2013

t will be difficult for many of the nine hundred residents here (to say nothing of the thousands of annual visitors to the Sailing Capital of North Carolina)
Bill Sage
Bill Sage
to see much of the old Town Hall building in Oriental’s gleaming new government and community facility. Many of us will have to refer to old photographs to remind us of the building constructed in 1971 on the corner of Broad and Church Streets on land given to the town by the Board of Education next to the old Oriental School (now condos).

But the old cinder block building is in there somewhere. There is a certain symmetry, if not poetry, in the fact that the original building (which was built not only as the town government offices and meeting room, but also as the fire department) was built under the supervision of Oriental icon and former mayor and town commissioner, the late John W. Bond, and the new iteration by his son-in-law, current Town Manager and licensed general contractor, Bob Maxbauer.

The original building was built of block with some brick veneer, concrete slab floors and pitched asphalt shingled roof. It had an administrative office and a tiny manager’s office, two small restrooms and a small police office. The meeting room could accommodate about thirty to forty seated audience which resulted in a fair number of meetings and public hearings (we are blessed with a very engaged citizenry) being held across the street in the large fellowship hall of the Oriental First Baptist Church. The remaining roughly sixty percent of the one-story building was comprised of (originally) two garage bays for the volunteer fire department’s trucks and equipment. A third garage bay was added later and the first responders’ vehicle was housed there. When the new fire station was built just outside of town in 2001, the bays were left largely unused.

john bond and town hall
John Bond (third from left) and crew lay down the first corner of the Town Hall. The photo is believed to be from 1971.

Hurricane Isabel in 2003 slightly flooded the building by an inch or so and the carpet (glued to the slab) was replaced. Hurricane Irene in 2011 flooded more substantially, damaging wall board and paneling as well as the carpet. Efforts to dry out the office and meeting space failed to stem the growth of mold and musty odor so that the town brought in an office trailer to use for offices and the board meetings were moved to the Fellowship Hall across the street. Town Manager Maxbauer presented the Board of Commissioners with alternatives for restoring our town hall facilities. We could clean up and replace carpet and wall boards. We could build anew elsewhere. Or, we could build up on the existing site.

The first alternative was discarded by the Town Board in view of the fact that we had just been through a second flooding storm in the span of eight years. Oriental could no longer view the issue as a “once in fifty years” occurrence. The second alternative was also discarded. When the Pamlico Board of Education gave the property to the town, it provided in the deed that if the town ceased using it for municipal purposes, the property would revert to the BOE. Therefore, the town could not sell the property in order to generate funds to acquire/build elsewhere. We decided to build up. The town discarded the idea of building a second story onto the existing building as impractical and Manager Maxbauer developed rough plans for raising the level of the floor of the building on the inside by twenty-six inches and utilizing the entire building for administrative town offices, large meeting room and a police station.

The town board approved a budget for the project of $289,000 and the plans were refined and detail added by the Manager/contractor. Since the Manager was a licensed contractor, the town would save the contractor fees and be able to do more within the budget. The features of the building evolved as the project went forward.

An interior block wall was removed and the building “gutted” before loads of dirt were dumped and placed inside the entire building, tamped firmly and leveled for the new slab floor. Before pouring concrete, however, a web of plastic tubing was installed just above the dirt along with the reinforcement steel. All of the tubing was led through the rear wall of the building. The concrete floor was then poured, entirely encasing the tubing which will provide radiant heat to assist the heat pumps. A similar network of tubing was installed on the southern exposure of the roof (routed into the three inch thick insulation panels and a green standing-seam metal roof covering installed. The roof tubing is connected (in zones) to the floor tubing and filled with a liquid to transfer heat from the roof to the floor. In addition, a small heater will heat liquid in tubes dedicated to the front walkway, steps and ramp in order to help melt the rare winter ice and snow.

In order to protect against flooding, the level of the finished floor is just over two feet higher than the previous level. It would take a massive storm indeed to come above that level. And there are additional protections provided in Maxbauer’s innovative design. The floors are ceramic tile throughout the building and the walls are tile also up to the chair rail (providing another three feet of water impervious surface). All electrical outlets and wiring are above the chair rail. There are four doors providing access to the building from the outside and each has a sump well just on the inside concealed by a grate in which a small pump awaits any water that might enter for any reason. The pump is connected to a pipe that will allow the water to be pumped out through the walls at about head height. Finally, in the event of catastrophic flooding entering the building and overpowering the sump pumps, some of the flood water may seep behind the tiled walls, some of which are not block but wood studs. The Manager designed an ingenuous system to avoid having to tear through the tiles and hardy boards to dry and restore these walls. The studs are drilled through with holes about two inches in diameter at various levels off the floor from six to about eighteen inches high. Four inch holes are cut at various places high on the walls through the sheetrock and covered with a cap that makes the hole virtually invisible. A hosed fan can be placed into these latter holes and air forced between the sheetrock walls to blow through the lower holes in the studs to dry any water that might have entered.

Town Hall before and after
Town Hall, before and after. (photos by Bob Maxbauer)

One large room in the administrative wing is constructed to be fire retardant for holding the town’s important documents and archives (previously stored in a low, dark attic area). An employee restroom is included as well as a small breakroom/kitchenette. Public restrooms are added on the southwest end, with two police offices. A shed room for equipment and controls was added to the back of the building. Even the added cupola on the roof (atop which is an appropriate sail boat weather vane) is functional, creating powered ventilation for the attic space. A “gutter” drain running the length of the attic serves to contain any spills from the liquid filled pipes for the solar heated floors.

All exterior walls are of either the original brick/block (which is waterproofed up to the interior chair rail height) or cementous clapboard material. Almost no wood is exposed on the exterior. All exterior doors are either steel or fiberglass/vinyl and all windows are vinyl. Even the soffits and the porch ceiling are of the cement based material and the porch columns are fiberglass. A massive concrete monolith in the rear serves dual purposes; providing a platform for the three high-efficiency heat pumps and storing solar heated liquid for later use. The plastic tubing is woven throughout the monolith as a heat sink for use at night or on cloudy days to route radiant heat to the floors inside.

Two much needed handicapped-accessible public restrooms (in addition to the employee restroom) have been added outside the police department offices. A video intercom outside the police door allows visitors to speak with either the policeman on duty or the front administrative office. The administrative end of the building has a large conference room with full audio-visual capabilities in which closed sessions of the town board or smaller meetings may be held.

Finally, the Town Board meeting room is nearly double the area of the previous meeting room and occupies the area of the two central garage bays of the old design. Upon a raised “stage” behind a tiled partition and a beautiful council table/bench are the seats of the town board members or the other boards and committees that meet at various times. The desk at which the Manager, attorney and clerk sit matches the partition wall and, while it appears to be built-in, it actually rolls on casters and may be moved to the wall when more floor space is needed. Full audio and video controls are at the Manager’s desk and the room is wired and equipped for local-casting the proceedings.

A grand re-opening celebration is scheduled for Saturday, February 9, 2013 with the general public invited from noon to 2 PM. The following day is the official Chinese New Year and Oriental’s own official Chinese Dragon will make an appearance beginning at 3:30 PM on the Hodges Street harborfront. A street dance is scheduled immediately thereafter. Many local businesses will be offering special promotions.

Bill Sage runs a law practice in Oriental.
He has been Mayor since 2007.