What about... Rotterdam City Hall

Care at the Coolsingel

A quick inspection of the city hall balcony. No, not one shred of confetti. Feyenoord didn’t bring home the national champion title this season either. Still, there is a reason to celebrate: From now on, Heijmans will be taking care of Rotterdam’s monumental city hall. Let’s meet the maintenance and management team at the Coolsingel.  

May 21, 2019

It won’t be long before we can get out the festive decorations and leave them up for quite some time, as 2020 marks the 100-year anniversary of Rotterdam’s city hall. At the time, it took five years to build the complex. Slow? Not to whoever looks at the figures: the city hall was built on 8,336 piles and contains 1.5 million kilograms of steel, over fifteen thousand cubic metres of concrete and three and a half thousand cubic metres (!) of natural stone. A small miracle: the colossus withstood the German air raid on 14 May 1940. Although the heat of fire did cause damage to the porous sandstone facades.

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Rice grains

Wednesday, 2 PM. It is quiet in the central hall. This is unusual, as it used for many purposes. Here, you can run into mayor Aboutaleb, the ten aldermen and 45 city councillors. Or some stray rice grains: in 2018, as many as 2,855 couples got married at the Coolsingel, which is also home to the busy Public Affairs office.

Heijmans? Down the stairs, into the basement: a maze of long, tiled hallways lead to work spaces. A couple of those are occupied by the permanent 10-strong Heijmans team: from maintenance engineer and work planner to service mechanic and carpenter.

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Location manager Ruud Boessen is sitting amidst piles of paper. He once broke his neck playing football. After a two-and-a-half-year recovery period, he was able to go back to work. His neck had healed: Ruud smoothly nodded ‘yes’ when Heijmans asked him to become the driving force behind the city hall project.


The contract came into effect on 1 January 2019. “Integrated management of both electrical and mechanical engineering as well as constructional work”, Ruud explains. “An extensive contract, particularly if you break it down into nuts and bolts.” Either way, city hall is a huge place: 29,319 square metres of floor space, spread over four storeys, attics and the basement. The duration of the contract? Four years, with the prospect of an extension.

Heijmans would like to start with a clean slate. Therefore, measuring and knowing is high on the agenda in 2019: a baseline measurement of all the building installations, an FMECA-risk analysis and an asbestos inventory. The results will be used to help draw up the Sustainable Long-term Maintenance Plan.

Of course, the toolboxes won’t stay closed during that time. “We are already resolving malfunctions. Cooling, electricity, heating. We also carry out repair work: broken hinges and locks, blockages, glass breakage, damaged doors and window frames, loose hallway tiles or paving stones in the courtyard. Although, we mostly deal with leakages.”

War glass

What’s the condition of city hall’s interior? Poor, according to Ruud. “The installations were last updated in 2007. That is a long time ago. Many parts date from the eighties and are often still wrapped in glass wool. At times, you even sense a Hans Brinker-approach, as in the story of the boy who stuck a finger in the dike to save the Netherlands from flooding. In case of the city hall, malfunctions were never resolved thoroughly. We, on the other hand, handle matters very differently.”

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“With our sleeves rolled up, Ruud says. The Rotterdam way. But also, with tact, because city hall is not only the administrative centre, but also a listed building. So, it is not a place where you use a pneumatic hammer without consulting the people in charge first. Ruud recalls the legendary story of a Polish handyman: “He was tasked with removing graffiti of the exterior façade. While doing so, he took it upon himself to also fill various holes in the wall. Historically, not a very wise decision: they were bullet holes from the Second World War.”


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Many city hall windows were also destroyed in May 1940. The so-called war glass that came in stead of it, is only two millimetres thick. Even the monstrous, pre-war column radiators can’t manage to keep the place heated. This causes a great deal of concern, as the municipality of Rotterdam wants to save energy. “But we have come up with a solution: in consultation with the renovation architect, we will be installing glass window screens which won’t affect the overall appearance too much.”

In 2000, city hall was renovated extensively. Works were carried out carefully and with consideration for the past. Heijmans’ client Vastgoedbedrijf Rotterdam is aiming to preserve the original state. “A practical example: if a ceiling has suffered water damage, we will make sure it gets repaired. That does not mean - wham bam - adding a plaster board. Here, you will mainly find thatched ceilings. We repair, plaster and paint a ceiling. Should that unintentionally result in a difference in colour, the whole room will be painted again. In a rigorous, though consequent manner. It cannot turn into a patchwork. It is still a monument.”

I do

Exploring. From one hallway to the other. Both the architecture and interior are a feast for the eyes. Impressive cylindrical stairways, the College Room, galleries with stained glass windows, the stately council hall, the wedding chambers 11 to 18 – of which only two rooms are still used to say “I do” – and a wall fountain. On 22 April 2019, it was exactly a quarter of a century ago that Ruud got married here himself. It was also at city hall where he registered the birth of his two children.


As a Rotterdam resident, Ruud finds it an honour to maintain and manage such a significant building together with his team. What makes it even more interesting: 52 days a year, Heijmans provides city hall with additional services and facilities. “At council meetings, elections, the fountain of honour and other ceremonies, but also at sporting events such as the Marathon of Rotterdam and City Racing.”

Angel of peace

One storey up you will find the impressive Citizens’ Hall, which is used for official gatherings, dinners, lectures et cetera, with the concert organ as showpiece. Ruud points out: “It contains a humidifier, which, yes, we also maintain.”

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Shortly after, he guides us to the roof terrace, where Heijmans recently renovated the copper drain. The bell tower, on which Rotterdam’s Angel of Peace is mounted, overlooks the city. Its height: 75 metres. It is frequently struck by lightning, but the angel will not budge: the lightning rods work perfectly. It is one of the hundreds of matters on Heijmans maintenance list.


Quite recently, Heijmans also renovated the tower’s meter cupboard. The large timepiece and partly computer-driven carillon depend on reliable power supply. Ruud grins: “Each day, thousands of passers-by look at that clock. When it was one minute behind, the people of Rotterdam immediately made note of it on social media.”

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Heijmans and Vastgoedbedrijf Rotterdam discuss ongoing business during their weekly operational meetings. They also discuss: offers, guidance of subcontractors and improvement proposals. Ruud also meets the municipal restorers on a regular basis. He pauses in one of the hallways: “Do you see that chandelier with those glass cups? There is a crack in one of them. You do not simply head for Blokker to get a new one to replace it. We have to be very precise about such matters.”

City saying

The city hall has a big courtyard with a centrepiece fountain, which is also on Heijmans maintenance list. The copper angel on top of the fountain has turned green due to algae. Besides that, the coating of the basin is coming off. “We are going to tackle this carefully. It is made of sand stone. You don't go and aim a pressure washer at it.”


The whole management and maintenance team in the city hall courtyard. From left to right: Loek van der Wal, Gerard Verheij, Hafiez Nabies and Ruud Boessen.

The last part to explore: the city hall basement. Leakages in a part of the catacombs once resulted in the epithet ‘Little Venice’. It is dry now. The technical rooms, where, for instance, the air treatment cupboards are located, look clean and orderly.


Back to the central hall. The massive statue in the centre of the hall shows biblical David with a slain eagle, which symbolizes Germany. The marble stone states “Sterker door strijd” (stronger through struggle). It is Rotterdam’s city saying. Heijmans embraces it, definitely in the struggle against wear, breakage and damage.

Does Ruud ever run into mayor Aboutaleb? Definitely: “Kind man, unpretentious. Takes good care of Rotterdam.” Besides that, Ruud does not engage in the administrative issues that keep city hall buzzing. Besides, the Heijmans team knows confidentiality is vital here. Here you learn to hear, see and speak no evil. Even Rotterdam city hall’s sanitary facilities wink at these words of wisdom. They are made by the company Sphinx.