It's altogether fitting that the narrow windows of the comely Waukesha City Hall make it hard to drink in the skyline of the city at its feet. Utilitarian and pedestrian at best, this building slumps in stark violation of the character of downtown's storied architecture.
Somehow in 1965, when Waukesha was on the leading edge of dramatic growth, this brutalist building was a monument to modernism. Now it looks old, rundown and very much in need of $12 million in improvements necessary to make it workable.
City officials are looking at alternatives now to repair or, at a cost of up to $22 million, to replace this banal edifice. And despite the temptation to pinch pennies in light of a swelling list of capital needs over the next few years, this is not the time to invest in something of the same vintage as shag carpeting, Masonite paneling and avocado appliances. It's time to start over and do it right.
The city has made strides in recent years to improve its fire stations, library and police department, and it needs to add city hall to the list of respectable buildings that complement the downtown area and serve as a catalyst. There was a time when city halls were built as a sign of civic pride and with the unspoken promise that those who worked inside were obliged to serve the city best. An attractive building would go a long way in attracting and maintaining quality public servants in a time of an increasingly shrinking talent pool.
A new city hall in a more accessible location and with a more aesthetic appearance could help give downtown another boost as it seeks to transform itself into a revitalized, walkable community along the Fox River. It could be a statement that Waukesha is again on the edge of a new era of growth and has a city hall the reflects its history and has set the stage for tomorrow's progress.
We're not thrilled with the three locations options on the city's plate, but we find the site near the Fox River between Bank Street and St. Paul Avenue to be the best of the lot. We could even imagine razing the current city hall and selling the land to a developer who could build an apartment building or restaurant on the hillside that offers a sweeping view of the steeples and towers that dot the downtown valley below.
To be sure, Waukesha has stumbled at times as developers have transformed this thriving, growing city. A new city hall with a presence befitting one of the oldest cities in the state might set the tone for a new era when expectations will be higher, starting from the moment they walk in the front door to peddle their plans.