MAC Recommnedations on Proposed New Town Office Construction

To: Board of Selectmen
From: Jim Fortune
Date: July 28, 2011
MAC recommendation on the vote for a new town office:
Motion by Ron Axelrod to recommend deferring a vote on a new town office until annual March 2012 town meeting, with the possibility of exploring the potential of adding the Neighborhood House as a possible option. Second by Jeff Berzinis.

Vote: 3 to 1 in favor of the recommendation.

Town Office Alternatives Study and Public Hearing (discussion at the July 25th MAC meeting: A draft of a warrant article for the special town meeting was done. The wording of the warrant article would need to be similar to the one that was proposed at the annual town meeting in March with a total cost including interest of approximately $200,000. At the July 15th public hearing the MAC presented two alternatives that involve new construction or renovations. The study focused on two alternatives: 1). Construct a 550 sq. ft. addition at the new fire station on Maple Avenue (the Selectmen would recommend increasing this to 750 sq. ft.); 2). Renovate the old fire house on Islesford, which has 630 sq. ft.

A third alternative is to enter into a long-term lease at the current Town House location on Islesford. The owner does not want to sell the property, but would agree to a 5-year lease (with options to renew). A fourth option to co-locate with the school at Longfellow School on Great Cranberry is possible but it was deemed less viable than the other options as there is an on-going renovation project at Longfellow, and the intended primary use is for an elementary school.

Another option has been raised by others at a meeting of the Neighborhood House Board of Directors earlier in July, and was raised again at the MAC public hearing on July 15th. This option would have the Neighborhood House construct a 450 sq. ft. town office addition to the Neighborhood House as part of its project to renovate and update the existing building. The Town would not build the addition, the Neighborhood House would build it and rent or lease it to the Town similar to what they do currently at the offices in the Town House.

Cory Duggan who is on the Board of Directors for the Neighborhood House said that some Board members liked the idea, in that it combines uses rather than duplicating existing services and facilities on the island. The addition for the offices could be smaller since the town offices would be able to share a bathroom, kitchen facilities, and meeting room with the Neighborhood House. These already exist in the Neighborhood House, and the bathroom will be updated as part of the Neighborhood House renovation plans. Part of the Neighborhood House modernization plan, in addition to updating the bathrooms for year-round use, will be to fix the roof and insulate the Great Hall for year-round use. Locating the town office at the Neighborhood House would also eliminate the need for a new septic system and well on Maple Avenue. The idea has not been vetted by the Neighborhood House Board of Directors (or the Selectmen). The Neighborhood House will need more information from the MAC before this would be considered as a credible proposal, which would necessitate a delay until the March town meeting to give the MAC and Neighborhood House time to investigate this as a possibility.

The Town had the current town house was tested for mold this past spring. This, along with the heating problem and general condition of the building, were the main reasons for the urgency in relocating. The heating problem was resolved in December (2010) when the Town installed a new propane heater in one of the offices, this is in addition to the monitor heater installed previously by the owner of the building. The central heating for the building (basement boiler) no longer operates-status is unknown. The mold test found sme mold in the basement, as was expected, and a trace on the first floor office area. However, none of the test readings were found to be detrimental to the health of employees working in the building. With resolution of the heating problem and the lack of immediate concern about the mold, there may no longer be the same level of urgency to move that was previously believed. The Town would continue to rent the Town House for one more year depending on results from the March 2012 Town Meeting.

Options for the Selectmen:
1). Continue with one of the options to build or renovate at one of the fire station locations and present this option at a special town meeting in August.
2). Continue to rent at the currant location for another year and defer a decision on relocating until the March 2012 annual town meeting, and have the MAC explore the Neighborhood House as a possibility.
3). Stay in the current location with a 5-year lease.

Do we continue with one of the options to build or renovate and present a warrant at a special town meeting, or do we ask the Selectmen to wait until the March town meeting for a decision by voters ?

The MAC does not currently have cost projections for a Neighborhood House site. Commission members agreed that it would need to cost approximately the same then it does at the currant location if it is to be considered a viable alternative from a financial standpoint.

It was suggested that the Town could potentially get a contractor to do the work cheaper this winter. By next spring it could potentially cost 10% more due to work backlogs. However, he also suggested that the annual town meeting would likely have a better representation then would a special town meeting in August.

There would be cost savings with sharing of existing well and septic with the Neighborhood House. New construction could be further reduced to 450 sq. ft. with sharing meeting space, bathroom, kitchen, heating and utilities, etc. with the Neighborhood House.

The Selectmen could ask the MAC to investigate this as another option. If the new town offices were combined with the planned improvements and upgrades to the Neighborhood House, part of the investigation would involve finding out what sort of improvements and upgrades are needed, and how the finances would be worked out.

There is currently no urgency to move from the current Town House location. Building at the fire station will increase taxes, while building at the Neighborhood House would likely cost less.

One person questioned that the Neighborhood House doesn’t seem viable and felt that building an addition at the new fire station on Maple Avenue is a better alternative.

It was suggested that the Commission not shortchange the idea since it does have merit. The MAC should investigate this and see if the Neighborhood House is on board and then let the Town decide what it wants to do. The Town could proceed with a vote at a special town meeting, or the Selectmen could defer to the annual town meeting in March.

Some felt that adding infrastructure is a concern since the Town already has problems with keeping up with what we already own. The Neighborhood House has a similar concern in that this proposal would increase the size of the physical structure that would need to be maintained by the Neighborhood House.

It was suggested by Phil Whitney that it may be prudent to wait until voters have had an opportunity to weigh in school renovation projects and cost before voting on a new town office. There are a number of improvements for Longfellow and Islesford schools that are recommended to the School Committee. These will cost money and voters may want to weigh in on this before approving money to construct new town offices.

Delaying a vote will give the MAC time to explore the Neighborhood House option and determine f it is viable for an option to be presented at the March 2012 Town Meeting.