As city leaders stepped over fallen slabs of plaster strewn on a shifted floor of Atascadero’s historic Administration Building, they peered passed the mounds of debris to envision the reopening of City Hall they hope will soon take place.
A long-awaited, three-phase construction project to fix the 1918 landmark begins in September and is slated to end by the city’s centennial in 2013.
“I’m one of those people who loves the history of that building and can’t wait to get back in,” said Rachelle Rickard, the city’s administrative services director. She recalls how she dived beneath a meeting table in a fourth-floor conference room as the building shook hard during the San Simeon Earthquake on Dec. 22, 2003.
Today, a strand of Christmas lights hangs unevenly around the building’s busted brick rotunda. The structure has been yellow-tagged since the day of the quake. Few people have been let inside since.
Employees, led by Rickard, have been lobbying the federal government for the money to fix it.
“We’ve been working on it all this time, but people haven’t seen that real outward progress,” Rickard said. “Now with this construction work, everyone else will be able to see it, too.”
After two appeals, the city maintains that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should pay for the costs of bringing the building up to code as well as replacing the heating and cooling system that deteriorated after almost seven years of not being maintained.
FEMA has denied those requests because such damages aren’t a visible result of a quake, said Stephanie Kingsnorth, principal architect with Pfeiffer Partners Architects Inc. in Los Angeles, which was chosen because of its previous work on historic building projects such as the Boston Public Library. The federal agency bases its funding commitments off damage people can see, Kingsnorth said.