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New London City Hall renovations include expanded vault

New London — With its shelves chock full of paper records dating back to the founding of New London, the City Clerk’s Office is a goldmine for historians.

In a recent tour of the office’s vault, the fire-resistant and climate-controlled room holding historical records, City Clerk Jonathan Ayala flipped through the restored pages of a book containing hand-written town meeting records from 1646 in which there are references to the name Nameaug, the name given to the area by the Pequots that once lived here.

The vault contains a vast archive of property records, maps and large tomes with recordings of births, marriages and deaths, along with records of service for locals who served in the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War and Civil War.

After more than a century, and even with the advent of modern digital records, space in the vault has dwindled. Work is now underway to expand the vault, the reason why the City Hall lobby has turned into a temporary library of sorts. Books are situated on temporary shelves, others are in storage, waiting to be returned.

“The problem is we were running out of room,” Ayala said.

The solution, he said, is not only a vault that will extend into what was a bathroom space but a new shelving system — some of which are two-sided and others on tracks and will be able to be moved. It’s not doubling the square footage but it is nearly doubling the capacity and offering room to grow for at least another 50 years, he said.

The $164,000 worth of construction work on the vault expansion is being completed by Kronenberger & Sons Restoration and may include shoring up the basement to ensure the ceiling can hold the weight.

All that is part of the first major restoration since the building was completed in 1914.

The work has been ongoing for the past two years and unexpectedly included repair of a broken elevator in 2019 that forced Town Council meetings off site. The sitting City Council had one meeting in the room and, because of the coronavirus pandemic, has yet to return to the newly restored Council Chambers.

The $3 million for the project was first approved by the City Council in 2015 but a $8 million bid for the work forced the city to take a step back and act as its own general contractor and complete the work with a phased approach.

Tom Bombria, community and economic development project coordinator, has led the restoration effort and will be back before the council on Tuesday to request funds to finish the work. He said the majority of the interior restoration work is completed and includes new heating and cooling systems, energy-efficient lighting, information technology and security upgrades. Visitors to City Hall now must be buzzed in through an intercom system. Bombria said the work even uncovered some architectural features on the first- and third-floor lobbies that had been lost during past remodeling work.

He is asking the council for $380,000 for remaining interior work that includes plaster repair and painting in offices on the first and second floor, carpet replacement, wood floor refinishing and asbestos abatement from some rooms with floor tile, among other items.

The city has applied for State Historic Preservation Office Historic Restoration Tax Credits, which cover up to 30% of eligible costs. While there is no official commitment yet, Bombria said he is optimistic the city could secure between $500,000 and $800,000 in tax credits.

g.smith@theday.com

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