Rehoboth shows off new City Hall

Police, staff thrilled to show off updated, secure building
October 3, 2017

Citizens of Rehoboth Beach lined up five rows deep Oct.1 to get their first look at their new, $20 million City Hall.

“I think the turnout is spectacular,” said Mayor Paul Kuhns. “I think a lot of people have been waiting a long time to see what has been going on the last two years. It’s a beautiful building, and I think people will respect it and enjoy it for years.”

The most notable thing about the new City Hall is how roomy it feels compared to the city’s old building. The entrance off Rehoboth Avenue opens on a glass atrium, facing what will become the main public parking area for City Hall and the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center. The wide-open, expansive space connects through double doors to a new convention center lobby, while two stairways lead from the atrium to the commissioner meeting room.

Upstairs is the new commissioners room, where city meetings will be held. City Manager Sharon Lynn said the room is capable of broadcasting audio and video feeds of city meetings, although the systems are not yet operational. There is also a glassed-in caucus room that the commissioners can use for executive sessions, and a balcony on the second floor provides a great view of Rehoboth Avenue. 

Also upstairs is the police department, where Chief Keith Banks has the prime real estate: his corner office has two windows facing Rehoboth Avenue.

“What stands out for me is the staff, whether it’s the police, the building and licensing, the administration, they all have more space. That's been lacking for 20 years. We’ve really given our staff all the tools to do their job,” Kuhns said.

For Banks, the new building is both more functional and safer, not just for his staff, but also for detainees. In the old police offices, Banks said, detainees had to be led downstairs and into a holding area that was not totally secure. Because the building was not properly accessible, detainees in wheelchairs had to be carried down the steps, he said.

“Everything is streamlined and safer for everyone,” Banks said of the new building. 

The Oct. 1 open house was a proud moment for Mike Wigley, the main architect on the project. 

“It’s just good to see people coming and seeing the building coming to life, seeing the color. It’s a really good feeling to be here and see this,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to see it coming to fruition.”

The open house brought out Rehoboth dignitaries past and present. Commissioner Patrick Gossett said, “It’s been a long time in coming and I’m so excited about giving the staff the proper tools to do their job. The most exciting thing for me is the police department. Remembering what they had as operating facilities and to see it today is just incredible.”

Among the attendees was former City Manager Greg Ferrese, who managed city affairs for 30 years. “It’s a beautiful facility. Fantastic,” he said. “When I was hired in 1983, I started the beginning of January. I came into the office, and the mayor said, ‘You buy all the office equipment, all the supplies from Delaware City.’ That was the federal government’s junkyard. We got filing cabinets, the drawers didn’t open properly. Our paper clips were plastic. Look at today, 2017, what a difference. I know it cost a lot of money, but this will last the next 50 years.”

Former Mayor Sam Cooper viewed the building as a culmination of nearly five years of work in planning and construction. “It’s always good to be at the end,” he said. “I’m pleased with the turnout today. I was the one that pushed for an open house. I just thought it would be good for people to come see it before their first time coming to a meeting or paying a bill. It’s everything I thought it would be.”

Anger over cost overruns during construction of City Hall was one factor believed to have led to Cooper’s defeat in August after 27 years as mayor, although Cooper himself viewed the new City Hall as part of a legacy of projects undertaken during his nine terms in office. He said he views the Bandstand and Rehoboth Avenue streetscape projects as the most important undertaken during his term. Still, Cooper was pleased to see City Hall jump off the page and become real.

City staff moved in during the week of Sept. 18, and police and administrative functions were up and running by Sept. 25. 

“It’s certainly what we all wanted it to be,” Lynn said. “We have a lot more space to meet with folks and conduct the business of the city. It’s all working out well, and I’ll be glad when the hoopla dies down, and we have some sort of normalcy.”

Banks said, “All the officers and all the staff are just thrilled to be in our new building. It’s not just for the employees, which was much needed, but it’s also for our visitors.”