Escape hatch

When Jim Ward asked Roger Stancil why renovations to Town Hall toted up to Nancy Oates$1.2 million dollars — recall this was work that began as repairing water damage after council chambers and the ground floor of Town Hall flooded last year during a torrential downpour — Stancil said it was to remake the ground floor into a one-stop permitting center (though developers who needed a consult with Engineering would be out of luck).

What Stancil didn’t mention was the extensive “Life Safety Plan” that provides a special exit behind the dais and a bridge that shunts escapees from council chambers out to Stephens Street.

The project include a special curtain to hide the door, presumably so that during council meetings the illuminated word “Exit” doesn’t shine over the mayor’s head and send a subliminal message.

Other safety measures include Kevlar or other “bullet-retardant” reinforcement of the dais, said former police department attorney Matt Sullivan, now the town’s emergency management coordinator. He said the state building code requires a documented Life Safety Plan for every commercial building.

We are all too aware that shooting rampages do happen; in recent years, town council meetings in Pennsylvania and St. Louis have been disrupted by deadly citizen gunfire. Certainly, we can’t begrudge council members wanting extra protection. But the Life Safety Plan didn’t originate with council members; in fact, they didn’t even know about it. Sullivan expects Stancil will brief them once they return in September.

Renovations to the first floor should be completed later this month. Inspections, Plan Review and Permits will be grouped together, along with Code Enforcement, Revenue Collections and, at some point, said town communications manager Catherine Lazorko, staff from the Orange County Tax Assessors office. But Engineering has been moved out to the Town Operations Center off Eubanks Road, a locked facility not open to the public.

That should have been sufficient, but Stancil, perhaps in a plaster dust high, ordered the renovation of the west wing of the top floor and moved his office there, along with that of the attorney and the mayor (who has a full-time job on Franklin Street and rarely uses an office at Town Hall). Rumor has it that Stancil made the move to shield town execs from the general public, but Lazorko said the west wing will remain open to the public. Sullivan said he couldn’t confirm that off the top of his head.

Jim Ward said while he supports efforts to proactively think through scenarios to maximize public safety, his support “is not a blank check.” Let’s hope he receives an itemized bill from Stancil to explain the unusually pricey renovations.

And for people who watch council meetings in the flesh: Should the main entryway into council chambers be blocked, head for the dais and the perhaps unmarked door that will lead everyone to safety.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. many

     /  August 4, 2014

    I think they could have saved a lot of money with Mobile Virtual Presence Devices

  2. David

     /  August 6, 2014

    I’m confused as to why Jim Ward is asking for an explanation of the renovation cost after the work has been completed. Didn’t council members ask for a detailed work plan with projected costs before agreeing to allocate the funds?

    And let’s remember that the $1.2 million was just the tip of the iceberg. Staff engaged in some fancy financial engineering to piggyback the $8 million loan for Ephesus-Fordham improvements onto the loan for Town Hall renovations.

  3. I find it very hard to believe that the Mayor and some part of Council was unaware of this modification.

    A sad reflection on the Town’s attitude towards citizens. We’ve gone from being a vital part of our governance, to nuisances, to “special interests” (Ward’s characterization), to targets of scorn and derision (Palmer’s “spiteful” citizens plaint), to, apparently, a dangerous mob.

    Putting in an “escape hatch” reinforces the antagonistic posture a majority of Council has taken towards the public and surely will foster the distrust that has grown between the governed and the governing in Chapel Hill.

  4. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  August 7, 2014

    Wasn’t the Town Hall repair supposed to cost $800,000?

  5. Del Snow

     /  August 11, 2014

    I would be interested in knowing a) the amount of the insurance reimbursement for Town Hall’s flooding remediation and b) what part of the budget paid for the overage.

    Considering the constraints on many town functions due to budgetary shortfalls (reduced library hours or the inability to the supplement community block grant disbursement for two examples) I would want to understand how some of these renovations moved up on the priority list.

  6. Nancy

     /  August 11, 2014

    This link should take you to a pdf of a memo from Ken Pennoyer to Roger Stancil:,d.aWw
    Interesting that the cost of the renovations to the third floor is higher than that of the new permit center and the second floor combined. Insurance reimbursed $267,093. The rest came from Fund Balance Appropriation of $412,483. And $860,000 came from Fund Balance (reimbursed by LOBs). Does anyone know what LOBs are?

  7. Suzanne Haff

     /  August 15, 2014

    I return to this article today to try and imagine how the St. Louis police moved from a “community policing” orientation to a military orientation. This revamping of the Council Chambers is reflective of how this change in perception of citizens begins. The Chapel Hill Town Council is, perhaps without thought, leading us further from the “Southern Part of Heaven” and into a fearful “us and them” mentality. Let’s not forget our Mayor’s response to the Occupy Movement participants at the former Yates Motor Company building a could years ago. We need to reverse this trend and return to a kinder gentler more user friendly way of doing things – I just hope it is not already too late.

  8. DOM

     /  August 15, 2014

    Suzanne Haff –

    My God. What a leap. Creating connections like this out of thin air is downright disturbing.

  9. DOM

     /  August 15, 2014

    Suzanne Haff

    By the way, encouraging this kind of us-them thinking is exactly what encourages the kind of behavior of the self-proclaimed “anarchists” who drew the same connections you did and created several thousand dollars damage to CH police dept. equipment in a show of “solidarity” with the St. Louis shooting victim.

    Great minds think alike, I guess.

  10. many

     /  August 16, 2014

    DOM. I agree with you completely. Suzanne’s “leap” is truly disturbing and her lack of critical thinking is staggering. “Great minds”…….not so much, eh?

    Suzanne; prejudice is defined as the baseless and negative attitude toward members of a group. This definition includes your broad brush indictment of the police.

    Who exactly is guilty of promoting the “fearful us and them mentality” by attacking the police department on Martin Luther King Boulevard? What if the amount of effort these self described anarchists expended was put into constructive effort, instead for example raising funds their cause?