The Town Hall Saga

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More than two and a half years ago on October 8, 2015, the Town voted at referendum to “appropriate $5,130,000 for renovations and improvements to Suffield Town Hall and authorize the issue of bonds, notes or temporary notes in an amount not to exceed $4,385,000 to finance said appropriation.” Since that time, movement towards a renovated Town Hall has taken several turns. The most recent is the Permanent Building Commssion’s (PBC) proposal to raze Town Hall and replace it with a new, more efficient building.

The following timeline, based on information from the minutes and attendance at PBC meetings and minutes of the Board of Selectmen (BoS) from 2015-2018 illustrates the history.

From October to December of 2015 PBC met and discussed hazardous material abatement in Town Hall (asbestos, lead, etc.) and where to move town offices when abatement started. The need for “swing space” was necessary, and locations such as 203c Mountain Road, Ffyler Place and the old CVS building were among the possibilities. The Town Hall vault presented problems as it contains materials that need to be accessible to the public. The PBC estimated that moving all offices out of Town would take about six months. There was concern about moving too early before the Town Hall project was ready to begin. Hazardous waste consultants were invited to look over both Town Hall and Bridge Street School and present  abatement proposals. It was considered at that point, a wise move to bundle both projects and save money.

In January 2016, the First Selectman’s Office and Human Resources moved to 203c Mountain Road, followed soon after by Finance.

From January to June 2016, the PBC worked to get environmental assessments of both Town Hall and Bridge Street School and a structural analysis for Town Hall. The plan was still to bundle both projects. In May, the move of the rest of Town offices was postponed because the swing space at Ffyler Place used as the library’s temporary location still wasn’t available. In May, all the departments at Town Hall were expected to meet with consultants from EDM, an architectural firm, for a space needs study. A decision to use a Construction Manager at Risk (CM-R) was made and a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Town Hall/Bridge Street/highway garage abatement projects was revised and bids due in July, 2016.

In July 2016, the PBC received abatement bids. Asbestos was the primary hazardous waste at Town Hall, although lead was also found around some windows. Work continued on the RFP for the architect and CM-R.

EDM presents the space-needs study to the PBC. A revision of the original Town Hall plan is to be presented to the PBC in September. A decision is made at the July 21, 2016 meeting to separate the Bridge Street and Town Hall projects since the timelines for construction will be different, so there is no benefit to grouping the projects together.

From August to December 2016, conceptual estimates on Town Hall are done to get accurate construction costs and the space-needs study focused on trying to get all departments in one building, with the exception of Parks & Rec and Youth Services, which would be at Bridge Street School.

The initial costs come in at $8 million. This was more than the original estimate because the Town Hall addition had grown from 1,260 to 5,800 square feet. According to the PBC (September 22, 2016), “town hall has to be renovated with a new HVAC system and a new vault addition. We also need to fix the structural problems with the server on the second level, and a legal egress needs to be added to the second floor… The original plan was one story with a basement.” There was discussion at this meeting about whether to redo the whole plan. Would the Town be willing to pay another $4 million in appropriations for an expanded Town Hall? Should we go with the original bonding number of $5.1 million and just do the HVAC, increase the vault size and continue to rent space at 230C Mountain Road? EDM was asked to research how much it would cost to do the original renovation with just the vault.

In December, 2016, PBC minutes state “EDM presented three new layouts for Town Hall. The original plan was an addition on the west side of the building to enlarge the Town Hall to 18,000 sq. ft. These new plans will create a similar overall square footage but the 5,000 sq. ft. addition will be off the back of the building. Three schemes were offered and the specific office layouts and needs were discussed.

• Scheme A is a single level addition at ground level. It projects just three feet into the current parking lot.

• Scheme B is a two-level addition.

• Scheme C would leave the existing meeting room on the ground level with an addition built to the west of it.

The PBC favored Scheme B.

In January 2017, EDM presented revisions to Plan B, and the First Selectman planned to present the changes to the Town Hall employees. EDM presented more revisions to the plan in March, April, and May, 2017 and at this point the PBC felt the plan was ready to get a cost estimate.

In October, 2017, the PBC members learned the cost estimates for the Town Hall addition and renovation project: $10,979,232  The new addition added 8,682 square feet to the building. There was concern that this was still too costly, and at their November 2, 2017 meeting the PBC, after an executive session, decided to “ask the architect, EDM, to change the design and reduce the size and cost of the addition.”

According to the November 30, 2017 PBC minutes, EDM was then tasked to create a proposal for the $5.1 million that was already approved 2/1/2 years ago. If funding didn’t pass at the next Town meeting, this will give the Town options.

In March, 2018, the idea of tearing down the existing Town Hall and building anew was raised in both selectman’s and PBC’s minutes.

In April, 2018, a schematic drawing by EDM is presented at the PBC meeting. “This newest plan still includes an addition and would house all Town Hall departments and the Land Use Department.” The question was raised about the cost for razing the old building and building new. Julie Oakes, facilities director, responded that the Town would investigate that option and provide plans and cost estimates for consideration.

At the May 3, 2018 PBC meeting “Ms. Oakes distributed schematic drawings, cost estimates and a construction cost comparison for each of the three options, which were reviewed by EDM.

Option 1 – Maximized existing space and added the most square footage to the existing building. (Cost of $10,979,232)

Option 2 – Addressed housing all Town Hall staff in Town Hall utilizing shared office space. It presented slightly reduced costs over Option 1 with a slightly smaller footprint. (Cost of $8 M)

Option 3 – Would demo the existing Town Hall and build new. The overall square footage would be similar to Option 1 and 2 but with the ability to design more efficient work spaces without being encumbered with existing walls and stair cases. Oakes received two estimates for  demolition:  $450,000 and $525,000.

It would also provide rooms that were more suitable in size for their purpose, such as a larger mechanical room to house the HVAC systems. Also,  consideration could be given to repositioning the building on the site to address the parking and  entrance areas etc.

At the May 10, 2018 PBC meeting there was discussion of the three options proposed at the May 3 meeting. A motion was made “to recommend the Town pursue Option Three, to demo Town Hall and build new on the existing site. The motion passed unanimously.”

The Commission suggested EDM complete a schematic design for the new building.. and a rendering of the new building on the site which would be helpful in presenting the project to the Town.

There will be a number of opportunities in June  and July to hear about the options for Town Hall renovation/demolition and costs to the Town both at public hearings and at Board of Selectman and Board of Finance meetings.

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