Not just the 'wow' factor, but new HQ is 'brilliant' and 'fantastic' too
After two years of refurbishment costing £32 million, Derby's Council House reopened to the public yesterday. Kirsty Green reports.
"THREE words have been used to describe this building – brilliant, fantastic and wow."
That was the way Adam Wilkinson, chief executive of Derby City Council, introduced the public to the newly refurbished council headquarters, which opened yesterday.
In front of a floor-to-ceiling glazed entrance, Mr Wilkinson proudly highlighted some of the building's features – its light and airy feel, its energy-efficiency and use of hydroelectric power and the fact it had come in £4 million less than its original £36 million budget.
****Best Deals**** Van Insurance for 17-24 Yr Old Drivers - Contact Insure365 on 01782 898188 for a quotation, Free Legal Protection Included Valued at £25.00!
Terms: 1 Voucher Per Customer
Contact: 01782 898188
Valid until: Tuesday, June 25 2013
Most of the scepticism about the multi-million-pound refurbishment was left at the door by members of the public when they saw the impressive new interior.
Zabada Sharif was one of those who went on a tour of the building following its opening at 9.45am.
She heard about the opening from her son, Kasim Mahmood, 14, who is involved in the Voices In Action group for children.
And her impressions were in line with Mr Wilkinson's welcome.
"When you walk in, you really do think wow," she said. "We have all seen the old council building and this new one really makes an impression. Walking round, it has a very good atmosphere and it seems to offer so many more facilities – and Derby needed it."
Kevin Andrews and Ben England, both from Derby, went to see what the £32 million had paid for.
Mr Andrews said: "It's certainly better than the old one but then it would want to be for the money.
"I do think what they've done is good. I'm impressed with the environmental features too."
Mr England's only disappointment was that the new cafe, which will be open to the public, was not yet operating. It is due to start serving until the new year.
The refurbished Council House was opened by the Mayor of Derby, Councillor Lisa Higginbottom, with help from eight-year-old Amelia Cowler and 10-year-old Jake Spooner.
Amelia and Jake are pupils from Lakeside Primary School and they designed the images which have been displayed on hoardings while the construction work has been ongoing.
They helped Miss Higginbottom cut the ribbon outside and unveil a plaque inside the building.
Their teacher, Charlotte Seal, said: "I think it's lovely to involve the children as a thank-you for designing the hoardings.
"They've really looked forward to it and the fact that Jake and Amelia's names are on the plaque is fantastic."
The main feature of the building is the circular council chamber, which has a larger public gallery than the previous chamber.
The new space, used for council and cabinet meetings, is also now accessible via a lift, allowing disabled access – which was not available in the previous chamber.
While it sits within the new core of the building, the chamber does have some elements of the old – including the art deco global lights which have been cleaned and polished and now hang in their new surroundings.
The city's coat of arms will also soon hang within the 150-seat chamber. It is already etched into the glass window of the chamber.
Around the edge of the building are the new offices, with glass fronts allowing people to see in.
Desks are not assigned to one employee but any staff member can log into a computer and phone and work from that space.
"Although 2,000 people will work from here, there are only 1,250 spaces and that is because people will be using laptops," explained Mr Wilkinson.
"About 60% of staff have a laptop because they work out and about, in clients' homes or from their own home or coffee shops and so there are break-out spaces in the Council House where they can come in and access the wireless internet."
At the end of each working day, staff clear their desks and put paperwork in their lockers so nothing is left on desks.
"We are trying to make this Council House as close to paperless as we can," said Mr Wilkinson.
The archived papers which have to be retained by the council are now stored off the site and all new paperwork which comes in is scanned on to the system.
On every floor, glazed panels and walls have images painted on them relating to the city's history.
The colour of that paintwork matches the carpet colour and paint throughout that floor, with each floor having a different colour to help people navigate around the building.
Names of the public meeting rooms also give a sense of city identity – the Joseph Wright room and the Sir Henry Royce room.
And even quirky touches visible from the offices are a nod to Derby's history.
Looking down from the second floor, two covering sections for the floor below have been "turfed" and have some additional gifts left by building contractor BAM – three sheep and a ram, Derby's emblem.
And two Smith of Derby clocks have also been installed in the new Council House.
More of Derby's history has been retained and restored in the civic area of the building.
There, the old wooden panelling that lined the original Mayor's Parlour has been repaired and reinstated in a new parlour and the original mayor's reception area, with new carpeting laid.
The impressive ceremonial staircase has also be repaired with the marble flooring restored and polished.
But the hub of activity remains the ground floor.
Even on its opening day, staff at the 40 kiosks were busy dealing with people's questions and processing their papers.
On arriving in the Council House, the public are met by staff who guide them to the most appropriate kiosk for their needs.
Julie Andrew, from Derby, went to the Council House to deal with some paperwork.
She said: "I think it's really nice in here now and people help you so you know where to go."