Traci Engel Lesneski of the Minneapolis architecture firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle discusses design approaches to renovating the Madison Municipal Building.
With 23 different city departments spread between two different buildings, residents sometimes end up bouncing back and forth between the Madison Municipal Building and the City-County Building, both located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, searching for a particular office.
As it gears up for a major renovation of the Municipal Building, the city hopes to make these buildings less confusing for residents. The Minneapolis architecture firm, Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, hired by the city to do the preliminary design work for the project, is currently gathering input from city staff, officials and the public.
Although the $30 million project is focused primarily on renovating the Municipal Building, the firm is also exploring how the two buildings -- and the street in-between -- could function together more efficiently. In a public hearing Wednesday night, it updated people about its work and collected more feedback.
Traci Engel Lesneski, one of the firm's architects, said that although some people have gotten used to the layout of the buildings, newcomers easily get lost.
"One of the things that we've heard a couple of times is 'I've been coming to these buildings for 40 years and I understand them,'" Lesneski said. "So that comment for the design team says the opposite of what it was intended to say. We felt like that was confirmation that we're on the right path of trying to strip away confusion and make it more clear."
The idea that resonated most with residents was creating a customer service area for all 23 departments in just one of the two buildings, to direct residents to the appropriate offices, an idea Lesneski called "one-stop shopping."
Scott Kerr, a Madison resident, liked the idea but suggested the city take it one step further and locate all offices in one building.
"One-stop shopping makes brutal sense," Kerr said. "I can't imagine why we would want to be split between two buildings."
Bryan Cooper, a city engineer, later told Isthmus that consolidating city offices might make sense on paper, but is not easily done. "Of course that comes with a price tag, and then you have to figure what to do with the space we own [in the City-County Building]."
Nevertheless, the city is not contemplating leaving either building.
Many residents were also interested in including communal gathering spaces in the design, both inside the buildings and on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Dan Vercruysse, another representative with the architectural firm, said it is looking into transforming Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into a plaza that would connect the City-County Building and the Madison Municipal building more effectively.
The firm is also considering creating open, public meeting spaces within the Madison Municipal Building to inspire civic engagement. The building should not just be a place to pay a parking ticket, Lesneski said.
"We see a lot of potential for the way these two buildings and the space in-between can become more activated and become much more of a civic core," Lesneski said.
William Gates, a Madison resident, supported the idea of a centralized space in the city for people to meet. "We need visible spaces for participation when citizens do come into the city buildings."