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Rethinking Napa City Hall Again on it’s 70th Anniversary

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB


The recent Berry Eberling NVR article about locating the Napa Creek bridge stones picked my interest in developing a new Civic Center for Napa. Let me explain.


Back in 2020, the Napa City ‘s ambitious plans to build a new Civic Center became another pandemic casualty. The budgeted $138 million facility and expected to expand was developed in an era of unprecedented city revenue growth. The pandemic found the city’s addiction to TOT, transient occupancy tax, and its sibling, sales taxes, plummeted. At that time, the dream of a shiny new centralize Civic Center as well as gathering most major city departments under one roof, fell by the wayside and put temporary on hold. Of course, in architecture, there’s nothing more permanent than temporary.


At that time, Napa reduced every department operating budget and dipped into its reserve estimated at $10.5 million. At that time, Napa has spent over $4 million on an endless variety of alternate plans to upgrade and replace the 1952 built City Hall and other facilities. The existing 19,000 square-foot building worked well for much of 50 years until the 90s boom put Napa City, more than Napa Valley, on international tourist maps. Today, Napa has 94,300 ft.2 of facilities in five municipal buildings and three leased buildings, fire stations, storage, portables and miscellaneous facilities scattered around town.


Now is the time to start reconsidering the options presented in the 2019 Public Safety and City Hall Facilities report approved by the City Council in Spring 2020, then shelved because of the pandemic.


As I noted in 2020, the need for a new Civic Center shouldn’t be shelved but instead “Value Engineered”, as architects and engineers often do. This could be the time for more creative thinking and developing solutions that represent the very soul of Napa. The keywords should be as they were then, sustainability, renewability and wise growth.


Why do we need a new City Hall? Well, the present facilities are in terrible shape, need constant maintenance, and are seismically unsound. There are 1000 other reasons, but I’ve chosen a few here including:

  • Providing a modern and workable city council chamber with public meeting areas

  • Providing better customer-oriented services

  • Improved workflow efficiencies

  • Develop the project(s) within the citys financial capabilities

  • Promote stakeholders’ involvement, sorely needed in previous presentations

What hasn’t been previously addressed is how the new “Remote Work Model” will function in our Post-Pandemic Era. Rather than increasing the square footage of all the facilities in anticipation of future growth, we should be looking at efficiently sizing our facilities for the new world of remote working. In the 2019 report, the concept of remote work was unheard of. Now it is becoming more common, and we may very well be hiring city support staff in Kansas, Oregon or Tennessee, as I have currently. It works!


And here’s my proposal: This would be a perfect opportunity for Napa City to show its commitment to restore and recycling the bridge stones as part of the new City Hall. It doesn’t have to be super expensive. On the contrary, this could be a win-win for both the community, city staff and the construction industry. Rather than $138 million, it could be a structure or series of structures to shows off our creativity and ability to adapt to the new world.


The structure or multiple structures don’t have to be exta expensive if properly orchestrated. The ancient stones could be used as both foundation, plazas and exterior building veneer. They could also be made into a...... Basket to show off their sustainability and strength without the high masonry cost of construction. After all, recycling doesn’t mean using the product exactly as is, but in a repurposed fashion.


This July will be the 70th anniversary of the opening of the present City Hall. We should at least celebrate its history, service and agree to move forward.


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