The Town’s process toward providing decent quarters for its administrative departments has been long and uncertain. The existing Town Hall opened in 1962 as an improvement on the previous building, which was built during the Civil War.
There have been many significant changes and expansions to the 1962 building, including making offices out of the large conference room that originally occupied the west end of the second floor and the installation of an elevator. The Police Department moved out into new quarters on Mountain Road, freeing space for the growing needs of the town. More recently, several functions were removed into rented space in one of the Laureno warehouses on Ffyler Place and in the new office building at 230 Mountain Road, where the First Selectman’s office, the Finance office, all the building departments and Human Resources are now located.
The most recent Suffield department removals were made to clear the building, with the intent that the old place would be given a major, sorely needed overhaul, with basic infrastructure replaced. The final emptying was to occur when the Kent Memorial Library renovation and the new entrance project were completed and the library function could return from Ffyler Place. The unexpected library PCB problem changed that plan.
The Permanent Building Commission and First Selectman Melissa Mack have been examining new possibilities. Engaging EDM Architects in Unionville for conceptual assistance, they have reviewed several configurations of expanding the present building and two entirely new concepts. The renovating-and-expanding project would require emptying the place into more “swing space” during construction. The two new concepts would not.
The first new-building concept imagined a Z-shaped building with one segment immediately in front of the old building and another segment connecting to a third part extending toward the sidewalk. The present building was close by, but could remain in use during construction, though with some concern about possible major system failures like the heating plant. The latest new concept puts the new building entirely on the site of the “town hall annex,” next door downhill from the present building.
A Power-Point presentation to the Board of Selectmen on October 3 (and now available on the Town website: www.suffieldct.gov) included a table comparing the three concepts. The two new-building plans were both somewhat smaller than the renovate-and-add plan, mostly because of their more efficient layouts. But their estimated costs were greater: $11.20 and $10.74 million, vs. $8.76 million. (The swing space rental cost with the renovate-and-add plan significantly reduces the difference.)
All of the new planning uses a shared space office layout for several departments. It is thought to offer good service and efficient operations with modern computer-based systems and files in the smaller spaces. Enthusiasm for this configuration is not universal among the departments involved.
In her update at the October 17 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, First Selectman Melissa Mack summarized the three town hall possibilities described above. She added that, in the meantime, preparations were under way for all or most of the removed Town departments to move back into the empty spaces of the present building, temporarily. Vacating the current rented quarters would end the Town’s rent payments of $136,000 a year. In mid-October, Suffield’s volunteer prisoner work crew was cleaning and painting the first spaces to be re-populated. Mrs. Mack said that two departments would be back by the end of October, and more would come in November. Her hope was that all departments could return.
In the opportunity for public comment that followed, John Wesowicz, of East Street North, suggested that if the old Town Hall were abandoned, it would be advantageous to sell it for private commercial use and let the new owner deal with the building’s problems, rather than pay for its demolition.
The meeting’s agenda had listed an executive session regarding building purchase negotiations. What purchase might be under consideration was not specified. Permanent Building Commission Chairman Joe Sangiovanni and five members of the Board of Finance, including Chairman Ryan Anderson, joined the Selectmen for the session.
But before the executive session, Mrs. Mack called for the Selectmen’s comments on the town hall alternatives (an item not on the agenda). Those who spoke preferred the latest alternative: building anew on the “annex” site.
The executive session lasted about an hour. Following the session, there was no public discussion, and no votes were taken. The meeting was adjourned at about 8:40.