The city is preparing to renovate its offices in Madison Municipal Building, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
A couple of years ago, many in Madison considered the Central Library a dump.
"Folks looked at the 1963 building and said, 'Why would you save this?'" says Bryan Cooper, a city of Madison engineer. The answer became evident after the city renovated the building and added a third floor. The new library has been widely praised, especially for new sections like the Bubbler, a creative arts and learning space.
"If given the opportunity, you can transform a facility that generally folks don't think is a great place to be," Cooper says.
Cooper is hoping the same transformation will happen with the Madison Municipal Building. Although the Municipal Building remains gorgeous to look at from the outside, the inside has been carved up and covered over. Its heating and air-conditioning systems are in terrible shape, and it's widely considered an unpleasant workspace.
The building opened in 1929 as a courthouse and post office, and the city bought it in 1979.
The project is separate from, but related to, the controversial Judge Doyle Square project. City officials hope the proposed Judge Doyle Square hotel will connect to the Municipal Building. A report from last November estimates the city will have to spend $25.7 million renovating the building.
This month, the city hired the Minneapolis architecture firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle -- which also handled the library renovation -- to do preliminary design work for the Municipal Building. It will provide better cost estimates and outline how the space could be used. More detailed design work will have to be done after that, with renovation projected to start in the fall of 2016.
Traci Engel Lesneski, who is handling the project for the firm, says the building has lots of potential. "It had a renovation in 1979 that cut up some of those great historic spaces, and that's what we're hoping to restore," she says.
The ground-floor lobby is one that both Lesneski and Cooper think could be revitalized.
"The main hallway, from Doty to Wilson Street, used to be much wider than is currently configured," Cooper says. "It was a little over 20 feet wide. You could imagine if that was restored to its original size, it could offer opportunities for community events."
Lesneski wants to make the building more efficient and technologically up to date. But she says a few elements will be given special historic flourishes, including room 260, which was U.S. Judge James Doyle's courtroom for most of his career.
The firm will also look at the building's surroundings, particularly the street in front of it and the City County Building across the street.
"What we've been thinking about is how those two buildings can work together," Lesneski says. "We want to activate that whole block. Maybe it can work better for events like Ironman, or like when Obama came to town. Maybe it can work better as a public gathering space."