JAL — Looking forward to a grand opening in October, Jal officials are eager to show off their new city hall.
After years of planning, construction of the new facility inside the former Burke Junior High School building began last summer with Hobbs-based Lasco Construction Inc. under contract for the $2.3 million project.
“Once we get everything done, it’s going to be a beautiful building,” said City Manager Matt White during a Thursday tour of the structure. Landscaping, furniture and fixtures likely will exceed another $1 million.
Exterior work, including complete refurbishing of the parking lot with lighting and landscaping, is set to start this week, but Lasco employees are just a few weeks away from finishing the interior.
The current municipal building at 309 Main St. in Jal is considered outgrown and aged, dating back to 1950 when it was first constructed. Renovations occurred in 1966 and 1981.
In July 2019, following a community meeting to discuss how the building should be used, the Jal City Council unanimously approved architects to continue with phase one plans for a 14,300-square-foot city hall at the east end of the 37,900-square-foot Burke building.
Then, in the spring of 2021, the council awarded Lasco a contract to rebuild the interior of the eastern third of the building, located in the 700 block of West Wyoming Avenue, to house municipal offices and council chambers. Construction began last summer.
Entering the council chamber where a semi-circle bench for councilors has been placed, Mayor Stephen Aldridge said, “This used to be a band hall.” He recalled some of his own days as a student in the former school.
The large room includes theater-style levels for audience seating and the council bench on a dais.
Substantial office areas for the city clerk, the mayor, the city manager and others flank the council chambers along with significant spaces for the water department, the motor vehicle department and the public works department.
Public Works Director Van Myrick, accompanying the tour, pointing out a record storage area, saying, “We’re finally going to have every piece of data for water, wastewater, streets and everything in one spot.”
Asked where all that data is today, Myrick respond, “Some’s at the police department, some on the water tower, some on that corner over there, some at the city hall, just everywhere.”
White agreed with a chuckle, “Unfortunately, that’s correct.”
Asked when construction will be completed, White said, “Well, they were saying the end of August (for the interior work). They’ve had trouble getting tiles and, you know how that is, getting some of the stuff they need. We’re not going to be done on the outside until the end of September, if we’re lucky.”
He suggested a grand opening could come as early as October.
In anticipation of New Mexico Department of Transportation work on nearby NM 128 through Jal, the city already has extended east-west Montana Avenue about 500 feet behind, north of, the city hall building to intersect with north-south Commercial Drive in order to ensure residents’ access to the Jal Clinic.
About 1,000 feet north of the new city hall, the clinic sits near the southeast corner of the intersection of Commercial Drive and NM
128. Offering the Wyoming route while NM 128 is under construction, officials hope to discourage truck traffic along Commercial Drive which is not engineered to carry heavy vehicles.
The primary access to the new city hall will be by Wyoming Avenue which will undergo reconstruction by the city and, further west from the city limits to intersect with NM 128, by the county to handle as much of the oilfield traffic as possible by-passing the NMDOT construction on NM 128.
County commissioners approved construction on Lea County’s portion of the road last month to upgrade the route to handle the large oilfield traffic.
One recent survey indicated as many as 10,000 vehicles per day traveling through Jal on NM 128, to and from the oilfield in southern Lea and Eddy counties.
“I think the story on this building is we had to build the street behind it, Montana Avenue, so we could actually rebuild the street in front of it,” White said. “The traffic is so heavy and access to the clinic is important.” Montana had dead-ended just before reaching the lot containing the Burke Building.
While some minor work has been done, city officials hope eventually to turn the western two-thirds of the Burke Building into a community center with various amenities, but the city hall comes first, as determined during that community public meeting held several years ago.