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After more than eight years and $24 million, 14 of Fitchburg’s municipal departments are back under one roof in the historic city hall building.
The Main Street building, built in 1853, was vacated in 2012 when a faulty truss was discovered in the roof and the building was deemed unsafe. City government offices were moved across the street into an old mill building.
The city realized an opportunity to update the building to meet today’s standards.
“Some aspects of the building were quaint, but it was not user friendly,” said Mayor Stephen DiNatale. “It had staircases that went nowhere.”
The city had a feasibility study done in 2016, and broke ground two years later on the demolition and renovation of the interior and the restoration of the brick exterior.
“The exterior is for the most part original, although the building went through a number of changes up through the 1960s,” DiNatale said.
The goal of the project was to create a “City Hall for All,” by making the building fully accessible, bringing all municipal departments under one roof, and focusing on wayfinding in the design process.
“In the design of this building people will notice immediately that the departments they need are right inside the entrance,” said Mary Delaney, chief procurement officer. “We tried to make this easy for people, to find what they need quickly and do their business easily.”
As a part of the project, the city renovated a neighboring property, a Bank of America office that had closed and was donated to the city. That building is now a part of the municipal campus, with the office for the city council and community meeting space.
“We are trying to make it as easy on the residents as possible when they come to city hall, and we can now have our boards and commissions meeting here when we are back to meeting in person,” said DiNatale. “It has a great deal of community space here with state of the art conference rooms.”
City Hall also features office space for the city’s state senator and representative.
The city shared virtual walkthroughs on Fitchburg Access Television last month and is beginning discussions about a timeline for when residents can begin to come in by appointment. The mayor said they are aiming for within the next three to four weeks.
“This truly is a city hall for all,” DiNatale said. “We are looking forward to when we can have a true ribbon cutting.”
The renovated City Hall is a central feature of a much larger effort to revitalize the downtown. Another project will make downtown more business- and pedestrian-friendly by reworking traffic patterns, building new housing, and rehabilitating the Fitchburg Theater in partnership with Fitchburg State University, in part by using a $3 million MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant awarded at the end of 2019.
The mayor said the pandemic has not significantly delayed most of the downtown development projects.
“We are seeing a lot more interest in [downtown] retail and restaurant space,” DiNatale said, noting an increase in foot traffic.