By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Oxford City Hall boasts an impressive facade, with ornate masonry arches, eyebrow windows and a multitude of gables. Holding down one corner of the Square, it’s almost as iconic as the Lafayette County Courthouse across the street.
In the 1970s, then-Mayor John Leslie negotiated a trade in which the U.S. District Court got a former Oxford School District property at Jackson Avenue and 9th Street and the city gained what was then the Federal Courthouse. The deal included $1 million in federal funds for the city to renovate the 1880s-era building.
“You can see right where John Leslie ran out of that money,” said current Mayor George “Pat” Patterson.
At the landing between the second and third floors, the wood floor turns suddenly to tile flooring – a tile that Patterson believes contains asbestos.
Higher up, the third floor itself has a few numbers on the walls that apparently reflected office addresses, but the building’s top floor has seen no use in four decades. Flooring has several patches and a few remaining holes; rain drips mark several walls; lath is exposed where plaster has fallen – and occasionally still falls – from ceilings.
Elsewhere on the third floor, a 1975-era air conditioning mechanism occupies what appears to be a former small courtroom or conference room on the top floor, and restroom fixtures remain where they were installed perhaps in the early 1900s.
Even the elevator goes only as high as the second story, where water marks are visible in the combination courtroom and boardroom. The city could use that third-floor space.
Several offices are stuffed into small basement rooms, some of which only have ingress through other offices. Bathrooms are few and confining. The first-floor conference room – the only real meeting space other than the courtroom – frequently is crowded beyond comfort.
The good news is that, except for the roof problem, the building is apparently structurally sound. City Engineer Bart Robinson said mechanical systems from plumbing to electric are outdated.
“The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) is the biggest issue,” he said.
Patterson is proposing a major City Hall renovation as one of three construction projects from which he’ll urge the Board of Aldermen to choose early next year.
“We need a new activity center, too,” he said. “The one we have is old and worn out, and there’s just not enough room for all the programs we have going out there. People are on top of each other.”
A third need being considered is a multi-story parking garage.
“I feel like we’ve got a little breathing room there,” Patterson said. “We’re buying a new parking lot, and our new enforcement efforts may buy us a little time to work on that.”
While the city has a $30 million endowment from last year’s hospital sale, the mayor and most aldermen are opposed to spending anything more than its dividends.
Patterson added, “And I’m against raising taxes.”