Inside of City Hall being ripped out during renovation

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Rodney R. Bonesteel walked through Eau Claire's City Hall on Wednesday and saw a lot of work which needs to be done.

His team, along with a crew from Market & Johnson, is ripping out wiring, ceiling tiles, and walls as part of the work to renovate the city's seat of government.

“I'm very familiar with the building,” the engineering project manager said to WEAU 13 News on Wednesday. “I started out here as a building maintenance supervisor. This was one of the primary challenges to keep this one functioning.”

Late last year, the multi-million-dollar, three-year plan to renovate city hall kicked off.

Now that the city's 91 employees who work there are out, everything from leaky ceilings to better windows will be fixed – while trying to preserve as much of its history as they can.

"Primarily, how can we make it functional for the public, and for us as an organization to be able to serve the public. How do we address some of the issues that we've chronically faced," Bonesteel said.

The modernization will include making the building more handicap-accessible to adding an advanced sprinkler system, but modernization isn't easy with a city hall that's also undergoing a restoration.

"The primary focus of the whole thing was to get us more functional for the public. That's primary number one,” Bonesteel said. “Because of the historic aspects that are available, we're taking the approach that we're going to do as much to restore that as practical and possible.

"I think the most fun thing has been being able to verify that some of the things we saw in the prints and drawings that we really couldn't look at, we can see them. We're starting to see them already, so that's a good thing."

As work continues inside, it's also revealed some historical treasures - some, which had been hidden for several decades.

This has included two original fireplaces, hidden by a layer of dry-wall since 1979.

“About three months ago, we cut some of the drywall and made sure they were there and could see part of them,” Bonesteel said. “Then, we then stripped off more of the drywall … and we can actually see that what's there.

“Unfortunately, the wooden mantels were removed when they did that, but we have the drawings and things that we can remake them. So, that was also good to see that they're there and that’s something to work with.”

Bonesteel said more of city hall's interior will be ripped out over the next couple months. The hope is to have things completed inside for employees to come back to downtown city hall by Labor Day of next year.

“For the workers that come back, I hope they feel comfortable in the building and I hope they're happy with the results,” he said. “I hope they have a little sense of both modernization and better workflow in the building … and also be able to look and appreciate some of the architecture that we're going to restore. That goes the same for the public, too. I hope it's easier for them to find their way to things and get things done.”