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Keeping the Lights on During a Major Move: Long Beach, Calif., Preps for New City Hall

The iconic City Hall's days are numbered, to be replaced by more modern digs. But the upgrades come with challenges for the city's busy IT department.

by / February 23, 2017
The current Long Beach City Hall stands as a fleeting testament to midcentury architecture. Despite some public outcry, the building is set to be replaced as part of a civic center corridor project. Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology
Long Beach City Hall stands as a fleeting testament to Brutalism, an architectural period that all but died out with the popularity of Sea-Monkeys and the Twist. Its four concrete towers and undeniable symmetry hark back to a time when computers took up entire rooms and local government seemed a bit simpler. 
 
But times have changed, and the California city is looking toward the next phase of its evolution — an evolution that will have far-reaching implications for its technology department. 
 
Roughly four decades after the iconic structure was dedicated as the city headquarters, a new and more modern building is set to take its place as part of the local government’s civic center campus. The expectation is that by June 2019, a new City Hall will have been erected, data centers will have been migrated and staff will be settled in their respective new digs — if all goes to plan.
 
While on its own the gargantuan task might seem like a lot, CIO Bryan Sastokas said the challenge lies in keeping everything else running at full steam in spite of the flurry of construction activity. Sastokas, who formerly served as the CIO of Oakland, Calif., seems unfazed by the task ahead.
 
 
The tight timeline, he would argue, has helped to focus his staff and illuminate the priorities they should be concentrating on.
 
“I think a lot of times when you do a lot of projects from an IT perspective, sometimes you don’t see the results until after you're done with deployment,” he explained. “You might get a website launched, you might get an app that people can use, so all of your hard work is kind of in the development in the management of the project. … Here you are starting to see physical construction. I think it has a different impact on staffs’ psyche. Our Civic Center is now kind of closed off, it’s a construction zone.”
 
When all is said and done, the midcentury complex will be replaced by $520 million in LEED steel concrete and glass structures with open floorplans. The Port Authority, city library and a residential corridor will take the place of the existing structures. 
 
 
But the environmentally conscious buildings pose their own challenges for IT planning. “It’s hitting not just the tech, but the design,” the CIO explained.
 
Rather than concealing cables behind drop ceilings and drywall like he might have been able to do in a less open environment, Sastokas said the new buildings require extra thought and considerable planning.
 
“As they design an open-formatted workspace in these buildings — they’re all glass — so there are no walled offices. So how do you run your cable? You have to have a lot of forethought,” he said. “There is a lot of planning and forethought that has to go into this to make sure in three years that we made the right choices, because I won’t be able to go into some drywall and just drop ceiling. This is concrete, you have to bore.”
 
In addition to the full-time job of planning and coordinating the move from the 20th- to the 21st-century structures, city operations have not stopped and just as much work needs to be done to “keep the lights on.” To address limited time and resources, Sastokas said staff members are having to prioritize the projects they take on. Two managers are dedicated to planning the undertaking.
 
Rather than working on every project that crosses their path, the IT team is having to look long term. If the end product will survive the test of time, Sastokas said his team adds it to the docket. If it isn’t a good investment of time, it gets pushed off until staff can give it the attention it needs. 
 
“From a management perspective, the challenges are a little more difficult because now I have multiple mouths to feed on technology services. So it’s how do I balance keeping the lights on with all of these projects that we have to do, new tech that may come in from the Mayor’s [Office] or some other department, as well as that development? That is a challenge.”
 
Among the initiatives making the cut, data-driven policing and a new ERP system and GIS have the attention of staff.
 
“We’re still doing other outreach programs at the same time trying to support 20 new departments as well as providing new policy initiatives,” Sastokas said. “All of that still has to be driven as well as the development of this space."
 
When all is said and done, city officials hope the project will be more than just a flashy new City Hall free of seismic safety concerns; they are also hopeful the open and centralized corridor will help to cultivate more of the community input they have been looking for.
Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.