Council Chambers was opened to the public on Jan. 6 after a three-week renovation project, the first major refurbishing the space has seen since Falls Church’s City Hall was first built more than 50 years ago. The $150,000 project sought to maintain the historic look of Council Chambers while refreshing the room and addressing health and safety concerns.
Before the renovation project, Council Chambers looked much as it did when City Hall was first built in 1957, just older. Signs of wear were evident in the carpets and benches of the frequently used facility – not just home to Falls Church’s City Council, but also the meeting place of its School Board and Planning Commission, and the site of Falls Church Combined District Court hearings. Grime dulled the bronze of the chandelier above the dais. Heavy curtains and acoustic sound walls gathered dust.
“We had to do a major facelift to it,” said Walter Harris IV, project manager for Integrity Construction Services, the Gainesville-based contracting and construction company that undertook the project on a tight three-week deadline while City Council and others who use the space were on winter break.
Beyond the cosmetic needs of Council Chambers there were health and safety concerns that the project needed to address, according to Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester.
These renovations to Council Chambers were part of a greater $11.7 million City Hall/Public Safety Capital Improvement Program plan which includes a $4.5 million rear expansion, a $3 million overhaul of City Hall’s dated HVAC components, and other projects to improve City Hall’s safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, and ease of use.
Mester explained that lights were replaced and the ceiling was painted to meet Court guidelines for adequate lighting; the ducts surrounding the room were cleared of dust and mold; allergen-trapping curtains and acoustic sound walls were removed and replaced; trip hazards in the floor were repaired; and, because the glue used to secure the floor tiles contained asbestos, the floor underwent asbestos abatement and the floor coverings were replaced.
To refresh the look of the space, Harris and his team stripped and stained all of the benches, retiled the floors, put up blinds on the windows that let in more light than the curtains previously installed there, painted the wood molding on the walls in a slightly brighter hue, and refinished the chandelier. In the process, the team discovered that the long mahogany table in front of the dais was a product not of the 1950s but rather the 1850s; it was sanded and given a clear finish to maintain its character. The team also updated the foyer outside Council Chambers. The aim was to make Council Chambers look as it did on the day that it opened, rather than an aged facsimile.
“It’s something historic that meant a lot to the City of Falls Church, and it meant a lot to us to be able to restore it to what it originally looked like,” Harris said.