Kent’s new city hall will open this summer after years of planning

Digital image of a three-story building with Kent City Hall signage
The most recent renderings of the Kent City Hall project, as of November 2021. City of Kent image

Construction of Kent’s new city hall is on track and the building should be open in July, said city Service Director Melanie Baker.

The city has never had a proper city hall, instead holding council meetings in the basement of the fire department, with other city agencies housed elsewhere around the city. Residents had indicated they wanted a one-stop-shop municipal headquarters, Baker said, but instead the new city hall will house Kent’s city manager and human resource offices, the finance and law departments, council chambers and offices, and the civil service department.

The community development and service departments will remain at a city-owned complex on Overholt Road, the health department will remain in PARTA’s Central Gateway building at 201 E. Erie St., and the parks and recreation department will stay in its small building on the edge of Fred Fuller Park.

City leaders went with the current design because of costs, the size of the site chosen for the new city hall and council’s decision to not add a complete third story to the structure. These factors all limited what departments could be included, Baker said.

The health department’s rented quarters cost Kent taxpayers $3,891 a month, or $46,692 annually, Kent Health Commissioner Joan Seidel said.

The way Baker recalls the reasoning, Jeff Neistadt, Kent’s health commissioner prior to Seidel’s tenure, had indicated that the health department needed an individual and separate entrance for its patrons and needed privacy when providing health consultations and administering health care.

The lay of the land and the building’s two-story design made those requests impossible to fulfill, Baker said.

Seidel recalls the issue being more about parking: Besides the nine or 10 spots needed for health department staff, additional spots would be needed for patrons.

As the building is now designed, parking is not a problem, Baker said. She added that selling the city complex on Overholt Drive is a nonstarter. It is home to many of the city’s vehicles, including plows, trucks, vactor trucks, pickups and inspector cars, as well as the sign shop and barricades. Sell the complex, and those vehicles would have no place to be, she said.

Central maintenance staff are also headquartered at the Overholt complex, as well as engineering department employees, she said.

The architectural plans city leaders agreed upon are not necessarily final. The new city hall structure was designed with options in mind.

“If, in the future, opportunities arise such that the need presents itself to expand city hall or add the third floor above council chambers, I am certain that council and staff will make the best decision as good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Baker said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.