I am grateful to serve the Town for another term. I appreciated speaking with many of you on election day. I share resident frustration at the slow progress with renovation of Town Hall and wanted to provide an update.
Prior to my 2015 election, residents approved $5.1M for Town Hall renovations (9/2/15 Town Meeting). Conceptual design merely allowed for expansion of the vault, a new HVAC system and life safety improvements. The renovation addressed the mechanics of the building, but not the building itself. A September 2016 cost estimate for this fragmented plan was $8,826,000–$2.7M more than approved. Having witnessed the piecemeal approach taken to the library and project cost overruns over the years, it seemed prudent to pause and undertake a space needs study for Town Hall, solicit employee feedback and prepare a thoughtful and strategic plan with a comprehensive cost estimate. The goal being to renovate Town Hall as new to meet Suffield’s municipal space needs for the next 30 years.
Based on those efforts, we have a new plan, which locates most Town departments (including 37 employees) under one roof providing many benefits. Most importantly, we improve customer service and ease of doing business with Suffield. Total square footage increases from current 10,609 sq. ft. to 19,291 sq. ft. The new design streamlines offices, includes conference rooms and common flexible space to meet and work with customers and coworkers and accommodates future growth. It includes a much-needed large meeting room with maximum occupancy of 70 (versus current maximum of 44), sufficient for a well-attended commission meeting. It adds 500 square feet to the Town Clerk’s vault complying with state law, and technology and mechanical upgrades promising less expensive and more efficient operations. The estimate includes a conservative 20% contingency, amounts for environmental abatement and increased professional fees to account for the Construction Manager at Risk construction model (see December 2016 First Selectman Observer article for details). Total estimated cost is $11.0M. This plan would result in a building we can be proud of and will positively showcase the Town as we seek to entice economic development and private investment in Suffield.
Vacating leased space will result in benefit to the Town of approximately $100,000 due to:
• Renewed real property taxes from the leased space (tax-exempt when occupied by the Town)
• No rent payment and maintenance charges
• Personal property taxes from now-available commercial space
I am, however, not blind to the financial crisis facing Connecticut and its unknown impact on Suffield. Accordingly, the Public Works Department, Permanent Building Commission and I have requested a second plan for consideration that does NOT consolidate a majority of employees under one roof, but better utilizes existing Town Hall space and only results in a one-story addition for the state-required vault expansion. Cost estimates for this revised plan are expected within weeks. Though it has taken the better part of two years to arrive at this juncture, we are now better equipped to truly address the Town Hall question.
The details of the two plans will be brought to the Boards of Selectmen and Finance to decide which plan to present to the Town Meeting (estimated February 2018). Requests for Proposals will follow shortly thereafter for the approved option. I will be as transparent as possible both in my opinion as to what I believe is best for the Town and the diligence we are taking to avoid many of the issues we have faced in the recent past with poorly conceived plans and unrealistic cost estimates. Let’s do Town Hall right the first time!
Happy and Safe Holidays!