LOS FRESNOS — “Togetherness” is a concept Los Fresnos city administration employees know something about.
When the current city hall at 200 N. Brazil St. opened in 1986, even then some people said it was too small, according to City Manager Mark Milum. It definitely hasn’t gotten any bigger, though administration employees soon will be able to spread their wings.
A new Los Fresnos City Hall, under construction east of the rodeo grounds on East Ocean Boulevard, is scheduled for completion in October, Milum said. The building, which takes architectural cues from the city’s long-vanished train depot, sits in front of Los Fresnos’ new emergency medical and fire services fire department building, which opened in November.
Milum said that when he took over as city manager in 2004, employees were stuffed into file rooms, a converted break room, even hallways. Out of the city’s 15 administrative employees, eight have actual offices, though in the new building everybody will get an office, he said.
There is also designated space for the chamber of commerce, currently housed in spare offices at Wells Fargo Bank, as well as for the city’s economic development officer, who lacks so much as a corridor.
“Our economic development guy works part time,” Milum said. “He just finds a spot wherever he can. Our IT director doesn’t have a place to really work. Our community health program, which is really good, we had her in the library in a study room.”
The library will get its study back come fall, at which point the police department — also suffering from cramped conditions — will expand into the newly vacated administration building, he said.
“They’re in hallways,” Milum said. “They’re in storage rooms too.
The city hall project was master planned to include an adjacent police department headquarters, complete with floor plan, to be built at a later date. Besides more office space for administration, the new city hall will have a much greater capacity for public accommodation, Milum said.
“We can sit about 18 to 20 people in our council room here,” he said. “It doesn’t offer people an inviting atmosphere to come to a public meeting. We’ll have a place for 80 to 100 in the new council room.”
All the people forced to stand outside in the heat during municipal court? When the new building opens, they’ll all be able to fit inside where it’s air conditioned, Milum said.
The ground floor of the new city hall is 9,302 square feet, while an upstairs portion, to be used for records storage, boasts a little over 1,800 square feet, he said.
“The building we’re in now, which houses both administration and the police department, is about 4,500 square feet, so we’re almost doubling,” Milum said.
College Station architecture firm Brown Reynolds Watford designed the new building, which is costing $3.2 million including land and ancillary costs, Milum said. The city issued certificates of obligation to make the project possible, he said.
Community feedback has been mainly positive, aside from some who question the necessity and feel the money would be better spent on infrastructure, though both are legitimate needs, Milum said.
“We’re trying to do both,” he said. “We did a bunch of street work this past year and got another three quarters of a million dollars worth of street work coming up.”
Remembering his days as a Los Fresnos High School senior when the city limits sign read “Population: 2,196,” Milum observed that his hometown is growing fast. With its high-performing school district and small town feel, Los Fresnos is increasingly popular as a bedroom community to Brownsville and Harlingen, he said.
The city’s 2010 census population count was 5,542 and the 2018 census estimate was 7,883.
“I think that’s a little low, because what they do is they take projections of where you were in 2010,” Milum said. “We’ve done a few annexations, not huge areas, but a little bit, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we were really closer to 10,000.”
Pointing out various features on a set of architectural drawings, he’s clearly excited to be moving into new digs.
“It will be awesome,” Milum said. “When you come and visit it’ll be a better experience, because there’s just not a lot of room anywhere here.”