MORAGA -- Living up to its tradition of fiscal thriftiness, the town of Moraga is moving ahead with plans to recycle a former fire station and give it new life as Town Council chamber, a community meeting room and emergency field operations center.

Plans to build the new facilities got a much-needed cash infusion last month when town leaders approved spending up to $287,581 from Moraga's general fund for the work at 331 Rheem Blvd. The Design Review Board made its approval April 14.

The town bought the former Moraga-Orinda Fire District station-turned-pool supply business for $1.2 million in 2010; the building currently houses the town's public works and public maintenance offices, which will remain there.

"It's definitely more cost-effective to remodel this building," than build a new one, said Town Manager Jill Keimach. "This is basically a reuse. It's green. We're not tearing down a building and putting a new building up."

The council's April 9 approval paves the way for facade renovations, landscaping and hardscaping which will convert the building into what could become "a new source of civic pride," said Pleasant Hill architect Steve Forster, whom Keimach hired last year to orchestrate the structural transformation.

Plans include adding and enlarging existing columns in the front of the building; installation of a new clay tile roof and updating doors and windows, including recently discovered clerestory windows.

Interior revisions include the addition of an ADA-compliant restroom in the lobby, new carpeting and partitions. A new audiovisual system is also being set up so the town can stream council meetings on the Web and be "more transparent and accessible to every resident," Keimach said.

The sprucing-up extends outside, where landscape architect Tara Bhuthimethee is planning to use drought-tolerant native grasses, boulders, a seat wall and a trellis to reshape the surrounding environment. Colored concrete and brick pavers will encircle a custom cast bronze Town of Moraga seal in the plaza area.

"Moraga is a community that really embraces its natural beauty," Bhuthimethee said, calling out other landscape "gems" such as the Hacienda de las Flores and Moraga Country Club. "(I) tried to reflect that in my design as well."

Initially wary of additional costs from other "green" updates suggested by other council members, Councilman Mike Metcalf agreed to a cost analysis of solar roof panels to generate power. But he did not support a full study of green standards for the building proposed by Mayor Ken Chew.

"The hallmark of this project is 'cheap,' " Metcalf said. "We have to be that way because we simply haven't got the money. It's nice to be green, but it does have a premium."

Once completed, the building will house the first dedicated council chambers in Lamorinda. The Lafayette city council regularly meets in the city library's community hall at little to no cost to the city, said City Manager Steve Falk. The Orinda city council also holds council meetings in their city library auditorium at no cost, said City Manager Janet Keeter.

Keimach said Moraga spends between $6,000 and $10,000 annually to rent the Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School auditorium, where the council usually meets twice a month. Staff overtime and other costs associated with the meetings are another $4,000 per year.

The town is working on acquiring a building permit with the county and getting bids for the work. Keimach said she expects to have the analysis for the solar panels in a couple of months.

---