The ceremonial unveiling of the new pink granite cornerstone marking the historic virtually-completed renovation and expansion of Falls Church’s Harry Wells Municipal Building, that is, City Hall, Monday was made the more meaningful by the participation of former Falls Church Mayor Carol DeLong, mother in law of current City Council member Phil Duncan.
DeLong continues to hold the record for the longest tenure of any Falls Church mayor, serving four two-year terms in the 1980s, and she has maintained a diligent unofficial oversight role ever since, frequently writing or testifying before the City Council and encouraging her husband, Chet DeLong, who continues his official service as a leading member of the Mary Riley Styles Library Board of Trustees, overseeing its imminent expansion and renovation effort coming soon.
Duncan was seen on the fresh, new dais at the head of the Council chambers aiming his smart phone in the direction of his mother-in-law at the public comment podium below to record her comments in the dedication portion of the night’s proceedings.
Duncan himself told the News-Press he was taken aback a bit by the new digs, saying the chambers, overall, exude a more portentous and business-like ambiance than the old chambers, which held forth at much of the same spot since the early 1980s, but, for one thing, had the dais at the opposite end from now.
Council member Letty Hardi also remarked that she felt a little surprised by the seemingly high elevation of the Council seats over the public below in the new room, something that had been eliminated entirely for the year and a half that the Council was forced to meet during the renovation in the Senior Center room of the Community Center, which was completely flat and made memorable mostly by its mesmerizing checkerboard square linoleum floor.
The new City Hall cornerstone, located toward the rear entrance to the new covered parking area, was the subject of a brief unveiling to begin the night’s dedication process.
The stone is made of pink granite, trondhjemite, which is found in only three known places in the world, including in Falls Church where the Tinner family mined it as stonemasons for generations. The cornerstone was dug out of the Lincoln at Tinner Hill project, and Sisler’s Stone carved, engraved and donated the stone. Its artwork was designed by City employee Meaghan DeCelle and honors the City’s tree heritage, with oak roots and trunk representing the City’s past, leaves to represents its present, and acorns to represent its future.
A reception ensued in the new City Hall along its wide, open corridor space, before the Council meeting was convened and former Mayor DeLong headed a list of dignitaries, including representatives of the Arlington General District Court that also holds forth in the chambers.
City Manager Wyatt Shields, led his remarks with a David Letterman-style Top 10 things about the new City Hall, including its open floor plan, time savings from having to assist lost visitors, roof terrace with its meadow and view of Cherry Hill Park, bragging rights coming with its LEED Silver energy conservation rating, relief from victims trapped in an elevator, elimination of stumbling upon attorney-client meetings being held in stairwells, seat cushions in the pews of the Council chambers, windows that can open, full Americans With Disabilities Act compliance and a real main front door entrance.
He noted that with the activity of the police department, the 911 emergency dispatch, the courts and the City government, the building “always has its lights on,” operating 24-7 for 365 days of the year. To the public, the building opens at 8 a.m. every day, and the court activities will resume there over the summer.
Council member Hardi noted the renovation is added to renovations at the Mt. Daniel School and now underway with the construction of the new George Mason High School, hailing the complicated, cooperative effort required exemplified by her edicts to her three boys, “Sharing is caring and put your toys away when you are done.”
Council member Ross Litkenhous said that aside from being a husband and parent, being on the City Council has been “the most purposeful job I’ve ever had.”
Duncan called for a moment of silence to remember the momentous contributions of the late City Manager Dan McKeever and citizen activist Gary LaPorta.
Councilman David Snyder said the renovation was driven by public safety concerns and represents a commitment to that end.
Councilman Dan Sze hailed the environmental sustainability and embedded sensors that automatically modify the internal environment.
Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly cited the artifacts carried over from the old City Hall, including the Bill of Rights quilt presented in 1992, framed 1948 charter of the city, the portraits of founding fathers Jefferson, Washington, Madison and Monroe donated in 1985 by the Village Preservation and Improvement Society, and pointed to blank wall spaces that she said will be filled in the near future by women and persons of color who’ve also contributed greatly to our democracy and the City.
Mayor Tarter commented on the renovation in the context of the “greatest period of capital investment in the history of the city.”