Bowie welcomes visitors to new City Hall
Hundreds of visitors tour $22.6M municipal headquarter
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Speeches over and the ribbon cut, hundreds of visitors surged into Bowie's new City Hall on Saturday morning, eager to see where some of their tax dollars were going.
"It's a beautiful building. It's stunning," said Jim Sichelman, an architect who lives in Bowie.
"It's open and airy and light," he said about the atrium lobby, which rose up two stories and sported a kinetic sculpture of black-eyed Susans. The flowers evoked Bowie's contribution of two Triple Crown winners, horses Gallant Fox and his son Omaha, to racing history in the 1930s.
The natural light spilling through giant glass windows into the spacious lobby filled with people of all ages is meant to illustrate a transparent and open government, said city spokeswoman Una Cooper after leading one of many tours of the building before the dedication and open house ended about 3 p.m.
Sichelman said the previous City Hall on Kenhill Drive, a converted elementary school, was "never suited for the running of the town."
He said he is glad that Bowie officials, known for being fiscally conservative, took the plunge and opted to spend $22.6 million to design, build and equip the city's largest capital project in its history.
Formerly housed in cramped quarters in the former Foxhill Elementary School, some city employees had been working in converted closets, said City Manager David Deutsch.
Like Sichelman, Bowie resident Carol Chastang said she was bowled over by the look and feel of the new building.
"It's like [it's] out of the [magazine] Architectural Digest. It's kind of incredible," she said.
"The whole building feels like it's moving, like a bird," she said. "It has gentle lines."
A Los Angeles native who moved to Bowie in 2003, Chastang also liked the tall golden sundial standing near the main entrance outside because it is accessible to the public.
"In Los Angeles, you have to go out of your way, and pay money to do it," she said about reaching some of the city's art projects.
Chastang said she also liked the way the building fits into the Bowie Town Center's landscape, with its stores, restaurants, townhouses and apartments, without being obtrusive.
"It fits in a real natural way with the whole development," she said. "There's not a jarring disconnect."
William Herndon, who lives nearby in the Willow Senior Community, uses a wheelchair to get around Bowie Town Center and he said he had no trouble touring City Hall.
"This has exceeded what I expected," said Herndon, a former personnel director for Howard County. "If I were to design this, this is what I'd come up with."
He said the tour on Saturday gave him a chance to meet city employees and that he plans to come back to ask their advice about where he can volunteer to mentor some of the city's young people.
"I'm proud to see this in my backyard," Herndon said.
Akinwale Ojomo, a Mitchellville resident who is a member of the city's diversity committee, said he appreciated the building's green features designed to conserve water and energy.
The building features low-flow faucets and waterless urinals, and part of the roof is covered with low-growing native plants that absorb water and heat.
The building also has none of that new-building smell, because the carpets, fabrics, paints and sealants were chosen for low levels of volatile organic compounds, which are potentially irritating or harmful, said Tiffany Wright, the city's watershed manager.
Ojomo and his young son also appreciated the chance to tour the Bowie Police Department's new quarters on the lower level at the rear of the building, which features a fitness center that can be used by all city employees.
Police Chief John Nesky said exercise is important to officers because it is one way of preventing the hypertension and heart problems that come with the stress of police work.
Crammed into a trailer at the back of the old city hall for years, the growing police department, staffed with 52 officers, now has room for offices and storage.
A large property room also includes an extra security area for confiscated drugs, money and guns, Nesky said.
There are also new interview rooms, which will eliminate the need to rely on interview rooms at the Division II county police station off U.S. Route 301, he said.
"It's fantastic, we're all excited about it," Pfc. Mark Polk said. "We're out of a double-wide [trailer] and into a home with a foundation with cement floors that can't be hauled away.
"It can only get better," he added.