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Lawyers long for City Hall comforts

A budget decision will force Milwaukee city attorneys to spend another year away from their City Hall home and split between two floors before their offices are renovated.

The city attorneys’ office on the eighth floor of City Hall is a construction zone for contractors repairing the building’s roof and exterior masonry. The attorneys, who are working on the seventh and 10th floors of the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building, asked for $5.6 million in the city’s 2009 budget to renovate the offices.

But since planning for the renovation isn’t complete, the project won’t happen until 2010 at the earliest. City Hall’s exterior work won’t be done until December.

“They’re not two contiguous floors, so we have to do some duplication,” said Barbara Woldt, office manager and special assistant to the city attorney, of the Zeidler offices.

“We’re dealing with it, but it’s not ideal.”

The attorneys moved out of City Hall’s eighth floor two years ago. Since then, contractors knocked down walls and made the space unusable as offices, Woldt said.

Even before that, the eighth floor, which got its last major renovation 25 years ago, needed improvement, so the city decided to delay the project until after City Hall’s exterior restoration.

“Ours really was substandard, in terms of what the current standards are for lighting and HVAC,” Woldt said.

The city’s 2008 budget included planning money for the project, but the design is still in the works and there’s no reliable cost estimate, said Mark Nicolini, city budget director.

The $5.6 million is a high-end estimate, he said.

The city for years used the Zeidler building’s seventh and 10th floors as temporary space for workers whose City Hall offices were under renovation, Nicolini said. The comptroller’s office was there in 2003 and 2004 when its fourth floor City Hall space got its first major renovation in decades, he said.

Until the renovation is complete, the city attorneys will deal with inconveniences such as separate mail deliveries and no receptionist on the 10th floor, Woldt said. Attorneys must leave their desks to unlock doors to let visitors enter the 10th floor area, she said.

But the attorneys will have their best offices in years after the project is complete, she said.

“A lot of our needs have changed,” Woldt said. “We actually have different staffing levels, we have different technology needs. The first time (the eighth floor) was designed, they didn’t have computers or anything like that.”

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