Debate on $37,000 desk is front, center at City Hall

Most everyone who passes through the City Hall rotunda agrees the new reception desk is beautiful, with its imported marble and shiny trim, and spacious enough for both police and city security officers to monitor the building.

With a price tag of nearly $37,000, it also was expensive.

The desk was custom-made for the city by a local company that used marble from Italy to match the building’s 1930s-style architecture. It made its debut in the lobby of City Hall several months ago, where it serves not only as a sign-in desk for visitors and a security station but also as a topic of conversation.

Though the city paid only half the cost of the large, L-shaped desk — a private donor contributed the other half — some taxpayers say even $19,000 is too much to spend on city furniture.

“It’s just ridiculous,” said Drake Townsend, of Spring, who visited City Hall on Thursday. “What’s wrong with the regular old desk?”

The old desk “looked like World War II surplus,” said William Hill, who paid for half of the new one out of his own pocket. For a time, the old desk was replaced by a folding table.

As part of a larger effort to preserve City Hall and other historical buildings, the city’s Preservation Committee, which Hill chairs, recommended in 2005 the purchase of a desk that matched the lobby’s art-deco style. A private company drew up the construction plans for free, and once Hill offered to pay half, the council unanimously approved the purchase. Houston-based Four Seasons Development Co. Inc. built it.

“It’s a lot of money,” agreed Issa Dadoush, director of the Building Services Department, which buys furniture for the city. “At the same time, this is a desk that was designed to meet the 1930s architectural style of the building.”

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