Rebuffed Rotunda set for retrofit

The Atascadero Rotunda building used as city hall has been fenced off and locked since the San Simeon Earthquake.
Photo by David Middlecamp
The Atascadero Rotunda building used as city hall has been fenced off and locked since the San Simeon Earthquake. Photo by David Middlecamp 4-8-2010 The Tribune

Reconstruction of Atascadero’s historic Rotunda Building will begin later this year, city leaders say, despite a second rejection of a request for more federal money.

The building housed city offices, council chambers, and the Atascadero Historical Society museum until December 2003, when the 6.6-magnitude San Simeon Earthquake caused severe damage and thick cracks on each of the historic landmark’s four floors.

It has been vacant and deteriorating ever since, and vandals threw a brick through a glass entry door earlier this week.

City Manager Wade G. McKinney said that the second rejected appeal by the Federal Emergency Management Agency means the city would have to build in a “worst-case scenario” regarding funding.

But he added that the city has obtained the money necessary to complete the construction. He also noted that reconstruction would not have been possible without FEMA’s support.To meet the $43 million reconstruction costs:

Before recent appeals by the city, FEMA had agreed to pay for the costs associated with bringing the building back to prequake condition, including some of what the federal agency calls “mitigation costs” for repairing damage that may or may not have been caused by the earthquake, such as a 7-inch slippage in the foundation on one side.

McKinney could not say specifically what requests FEMA rejected, but the 14 most contentious issues are listed in a report to be released next week.

The city has long held that FEMA should also pay for the costs of bringing the building up to current code and disabled-access laws, which were not in effect before the earthquake, as well as replacing the ventilation system, which has deteriorated through neglect.

The city had also asked for FEMA to allow for an open-ended estimate, which can be modified as construction progresses.

In the hopes of still gaining more federal support, confused city officials are asking FEMA for its reasoning in not funding certain needed improvements.

McKinney said the city worked closely with FEMA in preparation of the appeal, but the rejection cited that the city needed to provide more information than it was aware it needed to submit.

In upcoming City Council meetings, Atascadero’s elected leaders will choose a construction company to carry out reconstruction plans, which have already been completed. City officials estimate the project will be completed by 2013.

According to the California Office of Historic Preservation, the nearly 45,000-square-foot City Hall was constructed of bricks made out of Atascadero clay and served as a town administrative center since its construction funded by Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis between 1914 and 1918.

Since the earthquake, city officials have worked out of a converted bowling alley that functions as a city hall.