How do you plunk down a brand-new City Hall into the heart of a downtown where many of the buildings date back to the mid-1800s?
In the city of Carver, you design a building that echoes the past — at least that’s what locals decided to do.
The new $5 million City Hall, a large brick building set to open Aug. 26, is probably too fresh-looking for even an out-of-towner to mistake for a 19th-century structure. “Once the concrete dries, hopefully,” joked Mayor Courtney Johnson.
But Carver residents and officials did not want a modern building that would stand out from its surroundings.
Roughly 25 blocks of downtown Carver, including about 90 structures — many faced with the distinctive buff-colored brick that Carver and neighboring Chaska were once known for producing from local clay — comprise a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. New construction or remodeling within that area first must be approved by the Heritage Preservation Commission.
When city officials learned in 2016 that their Village Hall had safety issues, they had to decide whether to repair, remodel or just start over. The 60-year-old building, used for local gatherings, and the adjacent 30-year old City Hall were not especially lovely or even well-suited to their functions.
So city officials and a local task force decided to tear them down and build a new municipal building on the same downtown location, once the site of a historic hotel.
Carver had many hotels back in the days when a stagecoach ride there would require an overnight stay, said John von Walter, a history buff and member of the Carver Heritage Preservation Commission. Before Minnesota became a state in 1858, the city was the destination for steamboats going up and down the Minnesota River delivering goods to and from around the world, he said.
The hotel on the City Hall site was razed to create the decidedly nonhistoric previous buildings, both made of cinder block. This time, officials and residents were determined to do better.
“It was so important to [the city] that the building looked like it fit in with the rest of the downtown,” said lead designer Briana Keskitalo of St. Paul-based Wold Architects and Engineers.
The new City Hall borrows architectural features from the past: multipanel and arched windows, a small tower topped with a metal cupola and an exterior of buff-colored brick in varying patterns to accent windows and other details.
The building combines the functions of the previous two buildings, with city offices and council chambers upstairs and a public gathering place on the street level that can be used for meetings and other events. Carver has about 4,800 residents, a number sixfold what it was a few decades ago.
With its high design standards, the new City Hall “could be considered a contributing property within the historic district,” said City Manager Brent Mareck.
The old-timey look vanishes inside, with modern finishing materials and technology such as an LCD screen at the entrance and meeting rooms wired for video. Johnson and Mareck said locals will appreciate the upgrades.
Construction was funded with a city bond issue that will cost the owner of a median-priced $300,000 home an additional $81 a year, Mareck said.
Johnson said she hopes that, someday, someone might say, “My favorite old building in downtown Carver is the City Hall.” Not likely for now, von Walter said: “Maybe in 100 years.”