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City Hall has more appeal

Although I am a Houstonian, I’ve traveled to Orange frequently to visit the wonderful Stark Museum of Art and bask in the local historic sites.  It is a wonderful respite from the frenetic pace of Houston and the crowded museums and public venues.  (I’ve even poked my head into the Orange City Hall!)

I learned recently that the City believes the former Brown home, now City Hall, can’t be once again updated to serve the public good.  Rather, the City Council wants to purchase a bank building and move the city’s seat of government into a newer facility citing the inability to adequately rehab the current facility.  Houston is replete with recent examples of bringing homes, offices, and homes-turned-into-offices and vice versa up to code making them ADA compliant and energy efficient.  Groups like Preservation Houston and dedicated citizen-preservationists have made this possible.  It makes good sense economically and is satisfying to a community as these buildings continue to link a city to its history.

I can’t help but wonder if the City Council fully considered the cost of the move as opposed to rehabbing the City Hall?  Do they have hard numbers?  In following this situation, I understand that most of the upgrades needed to the current City Hall would cost about $400,000.  In these uncertain economic times, wouldn’t it would make more sense to use the public’s money to upgrade the facility than purchase a much larger building costing $2,000,000 which will require maintenance and its own retrofitting and bring higher utility bills?

In looking at this situation, I am also reminded of the successful Texas court house programs.  Texas county courthouses were added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places list in 1998.  The state responded with the largest preservation grant program ever initiated by a state government and has turned around the trend of abandonment of these structures for public purposes.

One thing Orange has going for it is its charm and that is largely because the history of the area is on display and being integrated into the fabric of modern life.  I think it would be ashamed to overlook remaking the current Orange City Hall.  As a symbol of Orange, it has much more appeal than the proposed bank building and all financial angles should be considered when spending the public’s money.

Jan DeVault

Houston, Texas