City officials are looking to carve a new main entrance into the basement of Waco City Hall.

The Waco City Council this week discussed spending up to $265,000 for a new entrance that will be wheelchair-accessible from the Franklin Avenue parking lot.

At a retreat, the council looked at two options for the accessibility project. One is to cut an 8-foot-wide ramp through a flower bed on the Franklin Avenue side into what is now a basement window. The other is to sink a ramp from the parking lot to an existing basement door on the front side of the building, at a cost of $210,000.

City Manager Dale Fisseler said the 87-year-old building is already compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, thanks to a basement entrance on the Washington Avenue side. But the Washington Avenue parking lot is sometimes restricted for events, and parking can be scarce, he said.

Fisseler said most people use the Franklin Avenue side, with its twin staircases leading to the first floor.

“This is where most people come into City Hall, because it’s closest to where most people park,” he told the council. “I do see people struggling to get up those stairs.”

Metal detector

The project could also lay the groundwork for making City Hall a more secure facility with a single entrance. A rendering presented to the council shows the new basement entrance with a metal detector and a receptionist area with bullet-proof glass.

Balancing access, security

Fisseler said he is not sure a metal detector and the glass are necessary right now. He said he likes the grand front entry and lobby area, where school groups this time of year gather to carol.

“I really like the fact that it’s a public building,” he said. “We’re trying to balance that with safety improvements.

“We just need to be prepared. If you wait until there’s an incident where you have to secure the building, you ended up doing it in a rushed fashion.”

The council appeared to agree with the need for the new entry, though no one expressed a strong opinion about which option would be preferable. The Historic Landmark Preservation Commission this fall indicated a preference for the front entrance, though members said either entry would be acceptable.

Putting an entry on the Franklin Avenue side would cut the existing housing and economic development department office in half, but city officials said that department is likely to relocate soon anyway.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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