United Bank renovations taking shape

Published 4:18 am Monday, February 21, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
For over 100 years, United Bank has been on the edge of innovation while trying to maintain a link to the past.
When Hurricane Ivan struck its high winds tore off the roof and destroyed two floors of the banks three-story corporate office located in downtown Atmore. Despite the devastation, bank officials looked ahead to a total remodeling project, instead of a quick fix to the problem.
"This is not just a roof repair this is the total renovation of the building," Bob Jones Corporate Executive Officer of United Bank said. "We are working on redesigning the building."
A construction company has begun the process of gutting the building from top to bottom in order to begin new interior construction.
"We're going to change the floor plan to adapt it for the bank's growth as well as to be able to better service our customers," Jones said.
According to Jones the bank will be bigger and better than ever.
"There was enough space between floors to build a new floor that will be a mezzanine level," he said. "The whole floor level will be open with a 20-foot ceiling."
Plans for that space also include offices on one side, but that will be among the last things completed.
The new United Bank building's architect Ryan Baker believes that in the long run the changes to the building will reflect progress rather than simply changes made after a storm's destruction.
"These changes will mix the timeless tradition of the bank with the more modern ideas of the banking world today and I think many of these changes reflect the creativity of the bank," Baker, who is employed by Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects, said. "They're moving forward and revamping their image for the future."
According to Baker, plans were set in motion shortly after the hurricane.
"We started working on the redesign probably two weeks after the storm, after things were settled down enough," Baker said. "As soon as Bob (Jones) was able to get over there and determine what had happened he gave us a call."
The building will be completed in an order that will allow the company to begin moving in the fastest way possible.
"We're going to finish the second floor first, then the first floor, then the third," Jones said.
The second floor is first on the list, so that the bank can have their meeting rooms, training rooms, board rooms and human resources department ready to move into, Jones said. Getting meeting rooms and human resources employees back into the bank will be the first step in consolidating the various departments into one location again.
Baker seems more excited about changes to the first floor.
"The lobby is going to be state of the art," he said. "There's going to be Internet areas and we're moving towards a more high-tech lobby and other things that will better serve the customers."
Drive-through banking service will be handled via a two-way camera system within the lobby rather than from the teller windows. The Internet cafe – a coffee shop that allows patrons to surf the Internet – is being added on as well. An information kiosk as well as a plasma screen television that will show patrons new offers and helpful information will also be added for customer convenience.
Not all changes will be internal, however. In addition to the new roof there will be several changes to the face of United Bank.
According to Jones few people even knew the bank was as badly damaged as it was until work began on the new roof.
"We're doing a new facade on the building – they've had some serious hurricane damage," Baker said. "We're putting a new roof on the top a new frieze band facea – and other columns and entry pieces."
A frieze band facea is a decorative addition that will go all the way around the building.
"It's basically like putting a capital on the building; where the plywood is now there's going to be stucco to update it from kind of that 70's modern look and make it a little nicer looking building in general," Baker said. "It will be nicer for the community and all the employees in general."
The building will not likely be finished before September like originally planned, Jones said.
"The biggest thing we caution customers about until then is to use the front door of the building until all repairs are made because workers are using the back entrance as a staging area," he said.
The Atmore office is not the only bank office to experience major damage.
"We lost our Monroeville office as well, so we have to rebuild it," Jones said. "That should be finished the middle of March."
The Monroeville office is also getting a total renovation as a result of the Hurricane.
Jones promises that when the damages United Bank offices are reopened they will be better than ever without losing any of the things customers are familiar with.

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