MILFORD — Milford’s city employees are a special election away from getting a new, modern office building — or living in the library.
Black mold and structural problems chased them out of their 1880s City Hall last month, forcing them all to share the library’s party room, with the city clerk conducting her business on one side of a cubicle wall, the police chief and building inspector conducting theirs on the other.
But that could start to change in February, when Milford residents will be asked to approve an $800,000 bond issue to build a 5,600-square-foot City Hall. If approved, construction could start this summer.
If it isn’t, city employees face an unclear future, said Gerry Dunlap, who’s on the education committee pushing for the bond issue’s approval.
“There’s not really another building in town they can move into,” he said.
The City Council has spent about a year working on the project, he said. But the old City Hall’s problems have been known for more than a decade.
In 2006, a structural engineer found evidence of widespread moisture damage, and recommended extensive work to keep the building stable — replacing walls, floor joists and load-bearing headers.
In 2014, another structural analysis concluded the roof needed to be replaced, and it’s deteriorated since, according to the city. The membrane developed a tear, sending water into the front office, the garage roof also leaks and one of the front window panes is slipping into its rotting frame.
“I haven’t been in there when it rains,” Dunlap said, “but they tell me they put buckets out.”
Not just buckets, said City Clerk Jeanne Hoggins. "We went and got our grandkids' baby pool and stuck it in the front."
Also, the old City Hall isn’t accessible to people with disabilities. It isn’t energy efficient. It doesn’t have enough storage space, according to a brochure produced by Dunlap's education committee.
But it was the presence of mold that moved city employees a couple of blocks away to the Webermeier Public Library in early December. It was a bittersweet day, Hoggins said. Milford’s City Hall has moved several times, but it’s occupied the old bank building since the 1970s.
“This has been our second home. This building has a lot of fond memories,” Hoggins said. “But it doesn’t meet our needs anymore.”
The library’s meeting room used to host family reunions. Now, five to six employees at a time — depending on how many police officers are on duty — are learning how to work alongside each other. Officers still conduct suspect interviews and test for blood-alcohol levels at the old City Hall because of privacy concerns, Chief Forrest Siebken said.
The plan to build a City Hall moved forward in late November, when 133 residents — nearly 50 more than needed — signed a petition allowing the City Council to schedule a special election for the bond issue. The vote is Feb. 13.
The city is prepared to spend $300,000 on the project, and the Community Betterment Committee has pledged $250,000, Dunlap said. The bond issue, which wouldn’t exceed $800,000, would pay for the balance — and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $55 a year if the bond is repaid in 20 years.
If approved, the city would build its new offices about a block east of the old City Hall. The building would be twice as large, with a city council chambers, offices for the clerk, building inspector and police, and a police garage, evidence storage and breathalyzer and interview room.
Dunlap and the education committee are trying to promote the project, he said, producing pamphlets and poster boards, and planning to appear at meetings and basketball games.
Siebken and Hoggins have answered questions about the proposal, though they hadn’t heard of organized opposition.
But Milford is a small town, Hoggins said.
“It’s one of those things that people aren’t going to say directly to us.”