A city hall design no one will fight

Mindful of the Lehigh Valley’s deep roots in portland cement milling, project principals did not need to labor over the material of choice to support and clad the new Easton City Hall and Transportation Center, rising in the fittingly named eastern Pennsylvania town of 27,000.

Bethlehem, Pa.-based Spillman Farmer Architects (SFA) and the City of Easton broke ground for the new three-story, 138,800-sq.-ft. Transportation Center Garage. The 370-space structure is the first phase of a two-phase project, the second housing city offices, retail facilities, and a public transportation center. Spillman Farmer designed the $31-million, 183,800-sq.-ft. mixed-use complex, enlisting Newcrete Precast—a division of New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co.—for structural elements and Lehighton, Pa.-based Slaw Precast for architectural panels.

Indeed, the primary material for the entire complex is precast concrete. The architectural panels will be textured using irregular striations to resemble the effect of a river cutting through a canyon. “We chose concrete because this material, too, has come full circle and is expressive of our architectural intent,” Spillman Farmer Project Architect Michael J. Metzger, AIA, LEED AP explained. “Northampton County is the birthplace of portland cement, an element that helped propel our region’s past successes. But, cement has also become a high-tech building material that delivers in incredible gains—in construction time, visual expression, and user experience.”

The entire complex is a part of the City of Easton’s economic revitalization program. “This garage is the latest in the series of urban development projects that are making our city safer, more beautiful, and more successful. We are looking forward to the economic opportunities a new city hall complex will bring to Easton,” says Mayor Salvatore Panto, Jr.

Spillman Farmer Design Principal Joseph N. Biondo, AIA explained that the success of the project’s design is a result of integrated planning efforts by the design and consultant team, the City of Easton, the Easton Planning Department, the Redevelopment Authority of Easton, the Historic District Commission of Easton, The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANta), and Trans-Bridge Lines. “The Lehigh Valley has unique opportunities for historical value and new growth to exist side by side, providing the kind of infrastructure, built environment, and social context that will continue to draw people to our area.“

One of the goals for the project’s design was to reflect the rich history of the city. During the Revolutionary War, Easton was one of the first three places where the Declaration of Independence was publicly read. Throughout the Industrial Revolution, Easton served as a major transportation hub; the canal, the rivers and the railroads all converged at this location, which transported coal, steel, and other materials to other states.

“The project will serve as a regional gateway at the confluence of Delaware River and the Lehigh Canal. When designing the project, Spillman Farmer focused on restoring the site to its modern-day equivalent,” Biondo explained. “The city’s history of transportation and government has come full circle, and the site’s design will represent that milestone. The materials and design will reflect the creative, innovative, intellectual, cultural, and technological history that defines the region.”

The project’s location in downtown Easton on the site of two abandoned retail facilities made it an appropriate candidate to receive a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone (KOEZ) status, which exempts developers and future tenants from many state and local taxes. The KOEZ program, developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, helps urban projects located on high-cost, difficult-to-reuse older sites compete for business with suburban greenfield projects.