Vandals Flood Cass Gilbert Building Again
By Stephanie Smith | Online Only | Jan. 30, 2007
When a six-foot piece of copper pipe was stolen from the city hall of Waterbury, Conn., two weeks ago, the subsequent flood in the basement was just a drop in the bucket of problems for the 90-year-old building.
Two years ago, the entire 90,000-square-foot building, designed by Supreme Court architect Cass Gilbert, flooded when a vandal opened a water valve on the fourth floor, leaving most of the building uninhabitable. Now the city is moving its remaining offices to temporary locations because of fire-code violations.
"It's a beautiful building that anchors everything," says Sheila O'Malley, spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Jarjura's office. "I can't imagine boarding up your city hall."
To make matters worse, in November, voters turned down a referendum to raise bonds for the estimated $48 million restoration of the city hall and an adjoining fire station.
This week, the city aldermen will hear less expensive restoration plans for city hall. A new plan could go to voters as early as May.
"When you don't fix a building for more than 80 years, it's going to cost you money," O'Malley says. She believes voters were not only intimidated by the price tag but also distracted by other issues on the ballot. "We've got to do a better job of educating people about how valuable that building is to the city and to its history and culture."
This week, representatives from the mayor's office, Main Street Waterbury, the visitors and convention bureau, the Mattatuck Museum Arts and History Center, and the Connecticut Community Foundation will meet to discuss holding a Cass Gilbert conference this spring, hoping to "build a constituency for that building and the other remarkable buildings in Waterbury," Marie Galbraith, director of the Mattatuck Museum.
"It's a difficult issue because it's very expensive," Galbraith says, pointing out that taxes are a sensitive issue in Connecticut. "While we support the project, the cost of doing the project is now is being borne by the taxpayers of Waterbury."
Galbraith hopes to create a wider awareness and support for Waterbury, the "brass capital of the world," located 33 miles southwest of Hartford. "It's a remarkable city that still retains buildings by world-class architects," she says. "These buildings are a national treasure."
Save America's Treasures awarded a grant of $197,000 toward the City Hall's restoration in 2006.
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