Thursday, March 22, 2007

Small Town News - Town Spins Out of Control

Town Hall Expansion Committee

An informational meeting was held at town hall last night to discuss the findings of the Town Hall Expansion Committee. This was the first anybody in town had heard about this committee. Of course, our little concerned citizens’ group had the inside scoop, including drawings of the plan and costs as well as other alternatives explored. Sean and I grabbed some Chinese take out and attended the meeting.

Actions of the committee were presented by the chair who has been a local architect for 30 years. The committee was comprised of residents including the chair of the planning and zoning commission. The following was his presentation:

They began by having each Town Hall resident complete a questionnaire indicating how much space they would like to have. Then they made a table of how much square footage each resident has and next to that the “wish list” square footage. The next question was where to build. Then the chair presented a drawing of the floor plan of town hall with a good sized addition coming off of the side and closing off the cut through road, and this side of the building is not thought to be off historical value since it does not have a curved edge and is not currently very nice to look at. This drawing is not available electronically, but I have used and old drawing from the Walgreen’s Pharmacy project and boxed in the new addition in black. As you can see, the planned addition would cover the town hall parking spaces, so the original spaces planned to be in front of the curved part of town hall are back in the plans. Architects have been working on this plan for a year.

Then he went into space allocation which was arrived at with “bubble” design and planned square footage was added to actual and wished for.

A consultant architectural firm was hired to maintain the historic character (“vocabulary” – geesh) of the town hall in the addition and she showed how this had been successfully accomplished in other projects.

My cobb job of representing the town hall addition. Town Hall in red, addition in black. See how it overlaps planned parking, where the cut through was, and new parking is now in front of the curved part of the building. Front view photo (above) taken from acute angle in street.

The presentation was then opened up for questions.

I asked if alternatives would be discussed as had been mentioned in the card mailed to all residents of the town. For example, the town had looked at buying a local funeral home and a local residence as town hall annexes, plus there was an option to rent a large local business with 43,000 square feet of office space for $8 a square foot. Had the committee looked at those possibilities? The answer was that no, they were only charged to develop this expansion. I answered that the mailer was misleading to residents then.

The citizens’ group’s eloquent architect had figured out a way to gain all of the square footage without an addition (by squeezing in a second floor – see explanation below) and wanted to present that, but he was disallowed and told it wasn’t his meeting.

Squeezing in a second floor – The town hall has a first floor with a high ceiling and an auditorium with a 17 foot ceiling. There is plenty of room to squeeze in another floor and still have a usable auditorium space.

A fireman with 35 years on the force indicated that closing the cut through could be a major problem as each foot of hose laid cuts water pressure and he wasn’t sure that the fire department could service down town adequately and keep the town’s high fire protection rating. That issue will be looked into.

One resident stood and said that she was appalled that any addition to our historic town hall was being considered at all. There was applause for her (myself and Sean included).

Sean stood and said that the town should really take a step back and look at other alternatives to building a major addition to town hall. Also, he wanted to know if any costs for the project were available. The chair acknowledged that costs were available and passed out the handouts with the costs. The bottom line was $2.6 million hard costs. Joe, the first selectman, said that the committee had looked at other alternatives first including the funeral home and the private residence. Then, the planning and zoning chair piped up and went through her litany of why they had turned down those other alternatives. I just couldn’t stand it that they had said that they didn’t look at this, and then did. So I interrupted with, “Did you consider renting at the industrial complex for $8 a square foot? Did anyone look at that?” Then I looked at Joe, and said, “I don’t understand why people on these committees don’t have any imagination when it comes to spending our tax dollars and protecting our town hall. I’m sorry, I am interrupting.” And then I shut up.

Someone asked what the next step was and the chair indicated that it was schematic design at 15% of the architectural fee or $25K. This would have to be decided by referendum. There is $100K in grants available to the town for this purpose.

Then, one of the committee members stood to sing the praises of the members of the committee and while doing that she mentioned that they had looked at squeezing in a second floor, but found it unworkable because of the cost of structural work. I thought that the eloquent architect, who was sitting next to me with his drawings of those very plans, would rocket out of his seat in replying to this. Again, they had said that hadn’t done something, but then did. And worse for him, they wouldn’t let him speak. He said, “I have those very drawings here. It is possible and if you would like to see how, I would be glad to show you.” As he rushed the stage, the meeting broke up.

Everyone was very frustrated and nothing much was accomplished. I honestly don’t know what will happen next. By the way, a Dunkin Donuts is being built behind a house right next to the new Walgreen’s. At least it won’t be on the street and won’t have a drive through. The citizens’ group is not going to fight it. We have bigger fish to fry with our court case ongoing.


Peter said...

Let's just hope it won't turn into "A Nightmare on Elm Street".

New additions to historic buildings are most of the time out of tune by their surroundings. Ofcourse building in the tradition of 1880 is difficult but still can be done, it will cost you extra taxdollars.

Sue said...

Peter - Yes, matching the historic "vocabulary" is a concern, but the architect has assured us that a matching brick and stone has been found. The cost to taxpayers is as always a concern. We fear our nightmare on Elm Street (very clever) has already begun!