by Allen Powell II
New Orleans bureau
March 06, 2013
“It might be something we’ll do at a later date. For now, there is no need to block off the street.” Mayor John Shaddinger
Westwego — A potential snag in Westwego’s plan to build a new $3.6 million governmental complex has been eliminated, and the city is poised to begin a final design of the facility.
Westwego officials held a public hearing Monday night to discuss the complex because of earlier concerns about the possible closure of West Drive at Fourth Street to accommodate a drive-through lane at the complex. Councilman Ted Munch, whose district includes the area, said he’d heard from residents last month who were concerned about the closure.
However, Mayor John Shaddinger said he’s spoken to Meyer Engineers Inc., the firm designing the building, and they’ve eliminated the street closure from the plans. Initially, Shaddinger said the street closure was necessary for the drive-thru lane, but now he says engineers have found a way around it.
“It might be something we’ll do at a later date,” Shaddinger said. “For now, there is no need to block off the street.”
Shaddinger said he hoped to use Monday night’s meeting to gauge how strident opposition is to street closure in case the city wants to revise the plans in the future. He also hoped to get the council to authorize him to proceed with final design of the project, which he initially hoped to get accomplished in February.
Those plans were thwarted after Munch raised concerns about the closure of West Drive, which he said was a last-minute addition to the plans without council input.
Munch said residents were worried about the loss of access to Fourth Street, which is a main thoroughfare in the city. Councilman Larry Warino suggested city officials hold a public hearing to allow residents to discuss the plans for the building in general and get some public input.
The city hall project has been plagued by delays for years as city officials initially haggled with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the proposed site and funding for the project. At one point, FEMA had reduced the money appropriated for the project to less than $1 million.
Westwego officials also made changes to the composition of the building, removing the Police Department from the complex and also considering removal of the satellite location of the Office of Motor Vehicles.
The 10,600-square-foot building is expected to serve as the city’s governmental hub for generations and will allow Westwego to move from its flood-plagued location on Avenue A. That building has been flooded more than a dozen times in the past four decades.
Shaddinger said he’s pleased to finally be ready to move the project forward, adding that residents had begun to believe the new complex would never get built. There had even been rumors swirling that Westwego was in danger of losing the money appropriated by FEMA, but Shaddinger said that wasn’t true.
He expects designs and bidding for the building to be completed in about four to six months, and then construction of the facility should be finished in late 2014.
“We can finally proceed with this project,” Shaddinger said. “Now we’re ready to start final design and breaking ground on our new city hall.”
He added that the city has pretty much scrapped a plan to move the driver’s license bureau from city hall to a vacant former bank building on Fourth Street. He said the bank officials haven’t been responsive to the city’s requests, and it’s time to move forward.
“I think that we’ve waited long enough for a decision from them,” Shaddinger said.