Black marble walls reach up eight metres inside the foyer of Surrey’s new city hall, while six storeys of window panes offer a view of a public plaza, the city’s new library and Central City tower.
The open atrium, with stone tile floors, spans the full six floors of the building, with a 20-metre-long artwork centerpiece – a metal flock of birds – flying toward the large window.
A wide staircase on the north side ascends, and at each landing, serves as a bridge between the east and west sides of the building.
On Thursday, workers were still scrambling to put the finishing touches on the structure, sanding down surfaces, covering exposed wire, and screwing banisters into stairwells.
Feb. 13 left only three days until City of Surrey staff moved from the old city hall at 14245 56 Ave. into their shiny new digs in North Surrey.
Officials insisted the $97-million building at 13450 104 Ave. would be move-in ready by Monday, Feb. 17, when the city officially starts doing business at the new city hall.
Much of the back areas of the hall are constructed as one would expect, with typical hub-style workstations separated by thick white dividers.
The outermost offices, for managers and city councillors, have floor-to-ceiling windows and gracious views.
The councillors’ offices are located on the fifth level. The mayor’s office, with adjoining balcony facing south, is on the top floor, which was closed during The Leader’s visit on Thursday.
The new 180,000-sq.-ft. building is touted as being more than just a city hall, with its council chambers also serving as a performing arts venue and meeting place.
The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certified building also features a district energy heating system. That system will use geothermal energy, sewer heat recovery and industrial waste to warm the building, reducing the reliance on traditional heating methods.
Surrey’s new city hall has been described as “grand” and “palatial” by some, and “gaudy” by critics. A few have referred to the building as “Watts Mahal,” in reference to the opulent palace in India.
The city has been criticized by some for borrowing $97 million for a city hall when other civic needs are becoming apparent.
Jordan Bateman, the B.C. Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said he’s getting an increasing number of calls from people in Surrey who are concerned about how their tax dollars are being spent.
He says the complaints are coming from both the residential and business sectors.
“Any time you’re spending almost $100 million on a building for bureaucrats, when you’re under-policed, when you have other issues facing the community, I think a lot of taxpayers are going to be nervous about it,” Bateman told The Leader Thursday.
He added it’s a matter of determining what’s important for the community.
“Obviously, in Surrey there are higher priorities for most people than building a new city hall,” said Bateman, a former councillor for Langley Township.
He added city halls are never a popular project.
“Most people go their whole lives without stepping inside it.”
Callers have told Bateman they are anxious to get a look inside to see what their money bought.
“It certainly looks grandiose from the outside, the question is have they gone for reasonable cost-saving measures inside?” Bateman said. “Is it going to be super fancy? Are there going to be marble counter tops, expensive carpet tiles, things like that?”
Mayor Dianne Watts said Surrey’s City Centre is going to be this region’s next downtown core.
“It’s really important, when you’re building a downtown core, you have to have a city presence,” Watts said.
Once the city announced it was moving its city hall, Surrey attracted $3 billion in private-sector development in Whalley, Watts said.
“We get those taxes in perpetuity for other pieces of infrastructure,” Watts said. “We can’t expect the private sector to invest in our downtown core if we’re not prepared to do it ourselves.”
She added the building has to meet municipal needs for decades into the future.
“When you look down the road, 50 years, 75 years, all the great cities have iconic architecture,” Watts said.
Several city departments will move into the new city hall over the weekend, and it will open to the public on Monday.
Council meetings will begin at the new facility on March 31, once all the audio-video work is complete.