YOUNTVILLE — Open trenches pass through the floors, revealing disused and decades-old steam-heating pipes. Plastic sheeting, snowy with dust, covers the wooden dais in the council chamber. Bare wood lines the outer roof, its hundreds of red clay tiles temporarily stacked in a parking lot.
More than eight decades old, Yountville’s Town Hall building on Yount Street is being stripped from its foundation to its walls. By year’s end, officials hope to complete the transformation of the brick-and-stucco structure into a more modern home for town government — better armed against earthquake damage, if a bit more snug inside than before.
“We’ve learned a lot about construction since the 1920s,” Public Works Director Graham Wadsworth said with dry understatement while leading a tour Thursday of the work in progress. Wadsworth and engineers working with Yountville guided town staff and council members, offering an up-close look at the $3.2 million project to shore up the former schoolhouse to meet modern seismic and fire codes.
Reconstruction is slated to last until the end of December, according to town officials. A temporary modular building in front of Town Hall is housing town offices during the project, and later will replace an older modular office to become an annex.
Visible in nearly every room during the guided tour were floor excavations, many exposing the hollow clay tile construction of walls erected in the late 1920s to house the Yountville Elementary School. Lacking bracing or other reinforcement, the original walls are the Town Hall’s chief weakness and the impetus for the renovation, according to Oliver Dibble, project manager for Pound Management Inc., the Oakland firm working with Yountville on the overhaul.
“Hollow clay tile does not perform well in an earthquake — it tends to shatter,” he said.
A new set of wooden walls will effectively form a framework within the existing framework, supporting the roof and taking its load off the original tile walls, Wadsworth said. The thicker walls are expected to reduce interior space by about 8 inches on each side.
The new foundation has been excavated, roof tiles have been removed and interior spaces demolished since work began in mid-June, according to Town Manager Steve Rogers. Pouring of a widened concrete foundation, construction of the new inner walls and the replacement of wooden roof sheeting are scheduled for August.
Most offices in the overhauled Town Hall will remain near their original locations, including the Town Council’s meeting hall. The two existing bathrooms will be converted to storage areas and two new, wheelchair-accessible restrooms installed, one opening to the outside. A sprinkler system, two new security cameras, hallway motion sensors and a keyless entry system also are planned for the building.
One element that will remain are the windows, which have been removed and are being cleaned and restored offsite to remove lead. Preserving the original windows will preserve Town Hall’s eligibility to join the National Register of Historic Places, a step toward its long-term conservation, according to Wadsworth.
The building has hosted the town government since the early 1970s, when stricter earthquake resistance codes led Yountville Elementary School to move to a new building next door.
Councilmember Margie Mohler estimated renovating Town Hall will save $1.1 million compared to a full replacement of the building, but said the real value of saving the structure is to preserve a piece of Yountville’s past.
“We’ve got such nuggets of history here and it’s critically important to keep them,” she said after the tour. “I’m glad we didn’t tear it down and start over, but maintained the character of the town — and it’s cheaper!”