Former Bank Building in SE Texas Becomes Orange City Hall

Municipal employees in Orange are moving operations to a new City Hall.
The Beaumont Enterprise reports having outgrown the renovated mansion it occupied for decades, the city officially started this month in the former First Financial Bank building on North 16th Street.
"The employees are so appreciative," interim city manager Kelvin Knauf said.

"The bank building makes such a good City Hall."
The bank and the city negotiated a deal to purchase the building and take over the bank's old furniture at least two years ago, said local Senior Vice President Kim Dickerson. But the bank made rent payments to the city for the space until the building next door was ready for the bank to move in.
Knauf said construction and that move were delayed by Tropical Storm Harvey, which struck in August 2017, but the extra rent money helped offset the cost to renovate the building for the city's purposes.
Although several seemingly bank-specific features, such as a vault and drive-thru lanes served by pneumatic tubes, work well for the city, Orange City Council meetings still will be held at the Orange Public Library.
Here are six other things residents should know about the city's move:
-- It cost about $2 million to buy the building and $300,000 to renovate.
Knauf said the building was valued at $4 million, but the bank gave the city a good deal in addition to leaving the city the furniture already in the building.
"It was a really good deal the city and the bank worked out before my predecessor and the City Council approved it," he said.
Dickerson said she wasn't sure what negotiations led to the discount.
After the bank's moveout in March, the city replaced the flooring and installed glass and card-swipe locks to separate certain offices from the lobby area; glass partitions between residents and clerks at the tellers' station; and a new security system including cameras and fire alarms.
"We just wanted to make the building really secure for our tellers and staff," he said.
-- The change keeps a building on the city's main street occupied.
With First Financial Bank moving to a new building next door, had the city not chosen to move its operations, it's unknown how long it would have taken to get a new tenant in the old building.
"When the bank decided to move, this building was available and it all fell together," Knauf said.
This way, another building facing one of the city's main thoroughfares stays full.
-- The Convention and Visitor's Bureau is in the same place as City Hall. Previously, the bureau was next door to City Hall. Now, it will occupy offices next to the executive suite.
Glass partitions also make the new location clear as residents and visitors can see racks of pamphlets of information about the area when they walk in.
-- The city doesn't want to tear down the former City Hall building.
Knauf said the Orange City Council will decide what to do with the former city hall, 803 W. Green Ave., but the consensus seems to be to leave the building standing.
"We don't want to tear it down and the city doesn't want to sell it," he said. "We just need to decide what is the best use for the building."
The former mansion was constructed in 1924 and purchased by the city in 1944. A great deal of renovations were done to make the mansion into an office building, but pieces of the home were restored to its original condition over the years.
-- The bank building provides new amenities.
Airtight and secure bank vaults will serve as records storage. In the previous city hall, records weren't stored in a central location because of a lack of space.
The bank building also has several offices that will be used for future expansion without requiring any additional cost as well as a large room to be used for training.
As for the drive-thru, the city will use it to allow customers to pay their bills without coming inside.
A bell will sound for tellers in the lobby when someone drives up and they will use cameras and microphones to communicate with residents using the service, just like at a bank.
Residents with more involved tasks will still need to go inside for help.
-- Members of the public can tour the building.
Orange city staff will take a few more weeks to get settled in, but at that time the city plans to host an open house for residents to tour the building.
Knauf expects that will come in September.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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