Barring any major issues, the city of Union should move into its first dedicated city hall in 2020.

The city hosted the official groundbreaking for the project in October 2019. The groundbreaking was a culmination of work to get the site ready for a new building.

The city has never had a building designated specifically for city hall. Through the years, it has shared space with the fire department, police department and the city auditorium.

The city agreed to purchase the former Fricks grocery store in late March 2018 for $475,000 from Central Markets Inc. The city stated it intended to use the site for the first permanent city hall in Union’s history.

In the summer of 2019, the city razed the old Fricks market and cleared the way for construction to begin. Meanwhile, the city’s owner representative Navigate Building Solutions and Horn Architects worked on preparing for the new facility.

The design by Horn was finalized and approved by the city. In September, Union aldermen awarded the contract for the city hall project to Wright Construction, St. Peters. Wright was the lowest of seven bidders vying for the project.

Wright’s base bid was $2,577,000. Including alternate projects, the total comes to $2,669,585.

The city had stated the construction budget for the project was $3,003,838.

Work on the site started in September 2019.

“That’s moving forward on schedule, maybe a bit ahead, but so far it’s going very well,” City Administrator Russell Rost said.

The new city hall is slated to be approximately 12,000 square feet and will house the city’s administration, collector’s office, boardroom, court, meeting room and engineering department.

The city will move from its current location in the city auditorium.

“From a service perspective . . . it will be much more accommodating,” Rost said. “The current building, you know, it wasn’t designed for this. People have trouble finding it, finding who they’re looking for. It’s not a very good flow for business here.”

Rost said the new building will be much more user friendly.

“When people walk in the new building, it should be very obvious to them — it’s one hallway. With the signage, they should be able to find what they’re looking for very quickly,” he said. “We’ll have a separate entrance for engineering to keep the mud and stuff out of the main part of the building.”

Rost said while the building is designed to suit the city’s needs, it’s not the Taj Mahal.

“Some people felt we should have spent more on the aesthetics of it — maybe not spent more, but made it look different,” he said. “We did a study to see what we needed and that study has been our guide.”

When the city moves, Rost said it will be a major improvement for not just residents, but city staff.

“(The auditorium) building, to talk to the finance officer or the finance director, I have to go down three flights of stairs with a bum knee and then come back up,” he said. “Then, 15 minutes or half an hour later, another question comes up and I have to go down again, or call or ask them to come up. (The new building) will make the interaction between staff much more efficient and much more direct.”

The city has been looking for ways to improve city hall after an accessibility study in 2017 showed major issues with the auditorium.

The current city hall is in need of work because it has a number of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues. Horn’s 2017 feasibility study on the current auditorium found a wide range of issues that needed to be addressed to meet federal standards.

Based on the study, the city decided the best way to move forward would be to leave the auditorium and build a new city hall.

Once the new city hall is finished, the city plans to partially renovate and upgrade the auditorium. The majority of city staff will move to the new building while others, like the parks department, will stay behind.

The renovation work on the auditorium will start when the new city hall is finished.

Based on a time line presented by Navigate, the work is expected to take a little over a year. Since being hired late last year, Navigate has long targeted having the city moved in by October 2020.

Substantial completion of the building is planned for September 2020.