In the Observer’s June issue, when Beth Chafetz summarized the Town’s long effort to improve the headquarters building of our town government, she provided an appropriate headline: The Town Hall Saga. That story reached a milestone on July 18 in a four-board meeting of the Selectmen, the Finance Board, the Permanent Building Commission, and the Advisory Commission for Capital Expenditures before a disappointingly sparse handful of interested citizens in the Middle School auditorium.
The Town Hall, erected in 1962 and remodeled since, has for several years needed a major overhaul of its infrastructure. And as the administrative needs of the town grew, the police station was relocated (to that most-appropriate address: 911 Mountain Road) and other departments have moved as well. Several attempts have been made to define how the building could be improved,
A key step was taken in October 2015, when a referendum with over 1,200 voters, approved an appropriation of $5,130,000 to renovate and expand the old building, with over $4,000,000 of that to be supported by bonding. (That referendum also appropriated $8,400,000 for converting Bridge Street School into a community recreation center.)
The Town Hall work would require the old building to be emptied, temporarily, and soon several departments moved out to “swing space.” The Town Clerk was slated to move to Ffyler Place when the temporary library moved out, as that was the only reasonable place to relocate the clerk’s vault. But, as it turned out, the discovery of air-borne PCB in the newly expanded old library introduced a major delay.
In the meantime, the Permanent Building Committee evaluated several schemes for the Town Hall. This effort led to the presentation at the four-board meeting in July. The Permanent Building Commission had voted in May, unanimously stating their preference for demolishing the existing Town Hall and erecting a new one, rather than renovating and expanding the old building. They believed that the estimated costs would be roughly similar, and the new design would provide a more efficient work space. Nevertheless, both alternatives were presented to the July meeting.
That meeting started with First Selectman Melissa Mack explaining problems with the present Town Hall and the long history of early efforts to solve them. Facilities Supervisor Julie Oakes assisted, and contractor Tim Eagles helped in describing the new designs. Eagles is with EDM, an architectural, structural, and management firm in Unionville, Pittsfield, and Albany which had been contracted to analyze the space needs of the Town departments and prepare preliminary plans to satisfy those needs and bring the departed departments back to Town Hall.
As presently described, renovating and expanding the 13,814 sq. ft. old building to a total of 17,579 sq. ft. (A) was estimated to cost $8,170,000 and carry the risk of unforeseen problems. Building new at 15,978 sq. ft. (B) was estimated as costing $10,430,000 and would provide a more efficient environment with fewer ongoing maintenance problems. Not included in those numbers are the related expense of demolishing the old building for Option B (about $500,000) and Option A’s cost of one extra personnel move and the required swing space. In either case, there would be a saving in avoiding the present lease cost at 230 Mountain Road and the added tax revenue when that space finds a commercial tenant. It was also estimated that Option B would have 10 percent less operational cost than Option A.
In summary, the presentation asserted that building anew was the more fiscally responsible way to proceed.
Contractor Eagles presented lot plans, floor plans and artistic renderings for both options. Option A would be achieved with a large, two-story addition replacing the present one-story rear wing. (Did you know that the Selectmen’s conference room was once the police garage?) Option B would entail a three-story eastern wing set closer to the street than the present building, a two story western wing, with a three-story lobby connecting the two. As depicted in the renderings, Option A would be all of the same general style; Option B, surprisingly, looked like a Parthenon-style New England church connected to a restored old brick factory.
In their interior layouts, both of these very preliminary options included the areas of shared work space intended to be more efficient in space utilization and more helpful to visiting citizens.
Unsurprisingly, EDM is now working on an alternative build-anew option located a bit to the west on space now including the Town Hall Annex. Both this proposal and Option B would avoid removal of the tree in the middle of the Town Hall’s front yard, which is a second-generation scion of the Connecticut Charter Oak, one of those offered to every Connecticut town in 1976 to commemorate the National Bicentennial.