Visitors to the new Toshima Ward Office in Tokyo may wonder why it’s housed in a super high-rise when it opens Thursday.

In fact, the ward office only occupies the first nine floors of the 49-story skyscraper. Residential dwellings account for the rest. It’s the first time in Japan that a municipal office and residential apartments have shared the same building.

In addition, Toshima Ward was able to construct the new building without earmarking new spending from its general budget account, thanks to efforts to offset outlays by leasing the land for the old main office to the private sector.

The new office will also be much more convenient for residents compared with the old one, which was also more vulnerable to natural disasters. The new office offers more common space where residents can spend time, and is better laid out in the event that a natural disaster strikes.

But how was it possible for the ward to build the new office without creating a fiscal burden?

“From the beginning, we were planning to construct by utilizing our existing assets,” said Shoichi Koike of the ward’s facility management division, who is in charge of the new office. “This was a basic premise, and we’d say this was the only way.”

The new office, which encompasses about 25,500 sq. meters, is located on the east side of Ikebukuro Station and is close to the landmark Sunshine building. (The old main office is also located on the east side, but a bit further north of the new office.)

Before the new office was built, a school and a facility for children to play in occupied about 40 percent of the land, which was owned by the ward. Houses, apartments and businesses occupied the rest of the property.

Because the ward owned 40 percent of the land, it planned to build the new office there and was able to get the residents and landowners who were living on the rest of the property to agree to the plan.

Then the ward, landowners and other stakeholders formed a redevelopment group to construct the new building.

Toshima Ward needed to come up with ¥13.6 billion to pay for its new office, and it was able to pay that amount by leasing the land on which the old main office is situated. The ward is expected to receive ¥19.1 billion from the lease. Thus the ward managed to cover the cost of the new office without having to draw from its coffers.

The total construction cost of the high-rise was ¥43.4 billion (which includes ¥13.6 billion for the ward’s new office). The redevelopment group paid for it in part with ¥18 billion from the sale of 322 apartment units in the high-rise, plus ¥10 billion in aid from the central government for the project.

The ward originally started planning the new office in 1988 and began saving funds for it. But after the bubble economy burst in the early 1990s, the ward had to tap the reserve, which had reached ¥19 billion.

“As a result, we only had about ¥300,000 in cash left from that fund,” Koike said.

He also said that when the project to build the new office started, the plan was actually to build the new office and residences separately on the same property. But “we wanted to have spacious floors where people can take care of their needs on one floor,” he said.

So it was decided that the ward would occupy the lower floors and the residents would live on the higher ones.

According to Koike, the prices of the apartments range from around ¥39 million to ¥230 million, but all of the units have been sold.

And Toshima Ward was finally able to move to the much-needed new office, as the old one was more than a half century old.

“If a natural disaster occurs, the ward office is supposed to work as a disaster countermeasure headquarters,” Koike said. “Although the current one has been reinforced with seismic isolated structures, the building’s equipment is very old and pipes might be damaged, for instance, if a natural disaster hits the area.”

In that case, the mayor and other ward officials would not be able to help the residents effectively, he said.

The old system was also not very convenient because service counters for various procedures were not unified and people sometimes had to go to different buildings. The ward had service counters set up across six different buildings.

But the third floor of the new office has customer service windows where residents can take care of a number of tasks. The fourth floor is set up in a similar fashion, but is geared toward welfare-related inquiries, so that one building can take care of everything.

Koike added that the office will be open on weekends, except for during the year-end and New Year’s.

Toshima Ward’s disaster prevention, crisis management and public safety sections will also be headquartered on the fifth floor, where the mayor works. They can quickly turn a conference room into a disaster countermeasure headquarters if needed.

The headquarters can view how evacuation stations around the ward are doing through live cameras, too.

Koike said the new office will display artwork by residents and offer an outside garden people can visit freely.

“We hope people will want to come to the new office (to hang out) even when they don’t have any procedural business to take care of,” he said.

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