MULBERRY — There has been talk for years that Mulberry needed a new city hall. The first step was taken at 1 p.m. Thursday, when ground was broken for the new Wilma Hamilton and Robert and Helen Luth Municipal Center. It will be located on a lot north of the Mulberry Fire Station, at the corner of Alfred and Military Streets. “We’ve been planning and staging this since 2009,” said Mulberry mayor Randy Jones. The need goes back a lot further than that, according to Peggy Beam, who served as assistant city clerk for six years and still fills in occasionally at city hall. “My mother, Jean Davidson, was city clerk from 1972 to 1994, and she fought the flood waters just like the girls do there today,” she said. “It was moldy, smelly, just not a nice environment. My mother would wear boots to work because the floor was so cold.” The municipal center should be a lot more pleasant. “This will be a 30-by-60-foot metal building, and Forrest Building will do the construction,” Jones said. “The south end of the building will house the police department, the center will be our city hall and the north end will be the courtroom. We’ll also have a drive-up window so that residents won’t even have to get out of their car to pay their city utility bill.” He added that this will be a modern building, with R-30 value insulation and energy efficient throughout. “This will cut down on the city’s utility cost,” Jones said. Cost will be around $100,000, but the city already has a big portion of that, thanks to Robert Luth. “He wanted to have a plaque in a building for a donation, and the city council said it would appreciate a donation in any amount,” Jones said. “Mr. Luth gave us $50,000.” Luth later said that he had been in Mulberry for 38 years and wanted to give something back to the town. “I thought it would be something nice to do and help the town,” he said. “I was happy to do it.” The building’s name will honor him and his late wife, Helen, who died April 2, 2001, in Mulberry, and good friend Wilma Hamilton, Mulberry native, who died July 26, 2012. Her daughter, Dolores Hamilton Caffrey, who lives in the Houston, Texas area, attended the groundbreaking. “My mother would have loved this,” she said. “Her maiden name was Smiley, and her family was one of the first in the Mulberry area. I can just see her sitting in her rocking chair, saying ‘Robert, you didn’t have to do this’.” This makes two places where Hamilton’s name is posted in her hometown. “She was one of the first taggers,” Caffrey said. “Under the viaduct on the way to Liberal, Mo., she put her name, Wilma Smiley, and you can still see it there. I’m thinking she did that while she was in high school.” She added that Sept. 19 was a very special day to do the groundbreaking because it would have been Hamilton’s 100th birthday. The location of the new municipal center is also special. It was once the site of Nipples Drug Store, later a Rexall Drug Store, Masonic Temple and, last, a mechanics shop before it became vacant. The roof of the old building collapsed the morning of Aug. 12, 2008. “The roof was pushing the walls apart and the walls started curving out,” said Tracy Trammell, Mulberry superintendent of utilities. Because the building was unstable and unsafe, city officials decided that demolition was the best choice. “It took us two days to get it all down,” Trammell said. He and his workers found a big surprise in the old building — a huge hive of honeybees. “It must have been four or five feet,” Trammell said. “We called a beekeeper from Foxtown who came and collected them. The backhoe had an enclosed cab and I didn’t get stung once, but some of the spectators were stung.” Work on the Wilma Hamilton and Robert and Helen Luth Municipal Center will begin very soon. “They’re going to break dirt on Monday and it should start moving along,” Jones said. “They’ll get the structure up, and then they’ll be able to work on the interior during the colder weather.” No decision has been made yet on what to do with the old city hall. “If we could have gotten a historic listing on it, we would have, but once you start remodeling something, that’s out,” the mayor said. “We’ll have the old building inspected and see what the cost would be to bring it up to code. That will determine what we do with it.” He believes the new center will change the perception some people have that Mulberry is drying up and dying. “This could spark some new life here,” Jones said. Marjorie McLeod, 86, who has lived in Mulberry since the age of 12, certainly hopes so. “We need something,” she said. “This used to be such a thriving town and now we don’t have much. It’s sad.” At the very least, the municipal center will be a much more pleasant place to work. “I think my mother’s looking down from heaven, and she’s so pleased,” Peggy Beam said.