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Save City Hall

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published January 31. 2014 4:00AM

I find it incredible that the lobby of New London's City Hall is as steamy, on these frigid cold days, as many greenhouses.

Indeed, you might almost expect people to be sitting around the perimeter of the graciously tiled lobby, wrapped only in towels, soaking in an environment that comes close to resembling a spa steam room.

The source of the steam in the lobby is a leak from the building's heating system. It is now seeping unchecked past not just a wall of plywood, which has been blocking the door to the room of horrors for weeks now, but a new barrier, a film of plastic that isn't helping much either.

The moisture collects as water on the inside of the plastic and runs down to the lobby floor, where it seems to be staining the tile. The steam itself also slithers out the sides, into the lobby.

Welcome to New London.

I am not a plumber or an engineer. But even to my amateur sensibility, it would seem something more should be done immediately to stop the leak.

It would be a little like continuing to put gasoline in your car, even though you can see it is leaking directly out of the tank onto the pavement. In this kind of situation, even a child knows when to stop, before more damage is done.

I know that Mayor Daryl Finizio blames the city's financial woes, when you ask him about the steamy conditions. They are working on a repair plan, ever so slowly.

No doubt politics will help eventually sort out any blame for the ongoing delays in stopping the leak.

In the meantime, though, it might be a good time for people who care about the city to put politics aside and do something to help preserve City Hall.

The magnificent building, one of the city's architectural treasures, needs professional attention, not just to stop the damage from a festering steam leak, but all kinds of repairs.

Of course, given the building's age, work should be done carefully, appropriately, to maintain what is a remarkably unspoiled historic building, the mayor's woeful addition of sliding glass doors to his offices notwithstanding.

Why can't some concerned citizens and institutions take on City Hall, in a good way?

How about one or two of them create an endowment for the building, start a nonprofit fund that would help restore City Hall and maintain it for generations to come, irrespective of changing politics and the vagaries of annual municipal budgets.

It really wouldn't take a lot of money to insure the longterm preservation of the building.

I can think of some likely donors, maybe big rich institutions in the city that don't pay property taxes, for instance.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, for example, could perhaps contribute a bit of the investment cream from the tens of millions of dollars it has stashed offshore in Grand Cayman. Connecticut College could allocate tuition money from a handful of students.

Electric Boat, which has also benefited from the city's hospitality, buying an office complex built with the benefit of tax credits for a bargain price.

Those are just a few of the possible institutional donors who come to mind.

I might also nominate New London Landmarks, the nonprofit that was created in the successful campaign to save Union Station, to help organize the Save City Hall effort.

Landmarks has not only been a positive reinforcing force for archaeological preservation in the city, but the organization seems to be good at grant writing.

Landmarks successfully spearheaded studies to help remake Hodges Square.

With warm weather on the way, the steam will eventually stop filling the lobby at City Hall. Who knows, they may even figure out how to stop the leak.

But a more permanent solution may be needed to ensure City Hall remain a proud architectural symbol of the power of the community.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

Town News

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