By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- City council members were at war over the furnishings when their newly built chamber was unveiled in 1914.
There is no record of a public dedication ceremony befitting the grand room, and the acrimonious events of the day may have been the reason why.
Fast-forward 88 years.
Completion of a historically accurate $335,000 renovation of those same chambers will get an unusually quiet reception this evening.
The understated event also owes to the events of the day. This time, it's a city in a multimillion-dollar deficit with 60 workers laid off, police officers and firefighters among them.
Indeed, it's hardly a time to flaunt such an expenditure.
Complicating the matter, however, is that the project and the deficit share little connection.
In reality, the project was five years in the making. Contracts were signed and most of the money was spent before the deficit emerged.
A small ceremony at 5 p.m. will honor the architect, Ronald Cornell Faniro, and the workers who did the renovation. Not many others are expected to attend considering that the Canfield Fair, post-Tom Joyner radio show events and the Party on the Plaza downtown are all happening this evening.
The project included improving office space for council's three clerks, the caucus room behind the chamber and the chamber itself.
Awkward timing doesn't take away from the renovation, Faniro said.
How it looks
The room now features a green and gold paint scheme to go with the "greened" white oak furniture. Stenciled artwork around the room is in reddish tones.
The vaulted, coffered ceiling and surrounding ornate, detailed plaster work that had sustained serious damage were painstakingly restored. The lights are almost-exact replicas.
Faniro compared the room to the restored Mahoning County Courthouse. Charles F. Owsley, who Faniro describes as a minilegend in area architecture, designed both.
"It's just a fabulous room with a fabulous history. It's every bit as nice as any room in the courthouse," he said. "The history really gripped me, enthralled me."
So much so that Faniro put in some sweat equity. He took home 158 pieces of brass from the room, such as the feet to the desks, and polished them all by hand.
"That's a lot of vinegar and a lot of buffing," he said.
The chamber last was renovated in 1964.
The mustard-yellow walls were dirty and the heavy brown lacquered finish on the furniture was chipping away.
Heating and air-conditioning systems had been hung from the ceiling in 1964. A dirty, water-stained drop ceiling hid that construction damage and the 1914 coffered look.
"Forty years later, it was about time," Faniro said of the chamber update.
Council commissioned a renovation study in 1997, but lack of money put any project on hold.
Plans were drawn up in 1999. The first money for the renovation project, $100,000, was set aside in August 1999 at the urging of the late Robert E. Jennings. He was the 1st ward councilman then who was defeated in the 1999 election and died a year ago.
Jennings' final request to his colleagues at his last meeting in December 1999 was to accomplish the chamber project.
"Please don't let that die. This is the worst-looking chamber in the state," he said.
How this came about
Nonetheless, bids for the project weren't sought until June 2001 while the city saved up money during good financial years in 1999 and 2000.
The city awarded contracts totaling $291,734 in July 2001.
Later that same month, council and the mayor first traded barbs over news of declining revenues that since have caused the layoffs.
Council members complained they were left uninformed. The mayor said council had access to the slipping revenue numbers and that he was surprised they didn't notice.
Regardless, awarding the contracts left the city no option but to move ahead, said Councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, chairman of council's buildings and grounds committee who largely oversaw the project.
The city had no reason not to award the contracts and would have been sued if it didn't do the work, he said.
There were $42,000 in change orders, according to city records. Most of it‚ $32,000, was for unexpected heating and air-conditioning work.
Council closely monitored the project to keep costs under control once tight finances became known, Faniro said.
Nonetheless, Faniro credited the city for taking a rare opportunity to do a historical renovation.
"They're sending a message that history is important to them," he said.