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CIP Committee recommends erecting a modular town office building

The Capital Improvement Projects Committee presented a conceptual plan of a proposed modular town office building next to the fire station to the Whitefield Board of Selectmen on Wednesday evening. The board will hold a public bond hearing, likely in January, to gather citizen comments before deciding whether to present one or more warrant articles at the March 11 town meeting. Courtesy Preferred Bldg. Systems. (click for larger version)
December 24, 2013
CIP Committee recommends erecting a modular town office building

By Edith Tucker


WHITEFIELD — Progress has been made in finding up-to-date space for the town's municipal offices.

The town Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) committee recommended to the select board at their Dec. 18 meeting that a warrant article or articles be placed on the March 11 town meeting warrant to construct a new co-located, multiple-use Town Office building adjacent to the Fire Station-Emergency Services on Route 116 (Littleton Road).

There is one basic plan, but there are two alternative options. Alternative #2 would include a ground-level community-recreation space and associated bathrooms and kitchen under have the building, and alternative #1 would not include that amenity.

After hearing the CIP Committee's presentation, the select board voted to hire Yeaton Associates of Littleton to do a preliminary design report of the mechanical and electrical systems, including a jointly shared wood pellet boiler used to heat the Fire Station and the proposed new town office. They board agreed to apply for a Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund grant to help pay for a community-recreation room, should voters support Alternative #2 at town meeting.

"If we are able to secure grants and also use available funds on hand, we hope to have a debt service that is less than the current annual rental payment," CIP Committee chairman Ed Betz explained.

He started by reviewing several efforts that have been made in the recent past to secure safe and efficient space for town offices at a reasonable cost. None of these efforts were supported by a majority of elected officials and voters, however, so the town continues to pay $28,000 in rent every year for office spaces that includes the Whitefield Police Department cobbled together in an existing downtown building without dedicated parking that is not code compliant.

The CIP Committee studied how other similarly sized towns had solved space issues in a cost-effective and energy-efficient manner to meet all the energy and building codes.

"We can also take advantage of this town's human resources," Betz explained. "We have very capable Public Works Department employees as well as skilled local trades-people and service providers, all of whom take pride in Whitefield."

The CIP Committee visited several other North Country municipal facilities, and one in New Hampton as well, which spent $40,000 on an architectural feasibility report and conceptual plans, all of which it scrapped to develop its own plans. That town ended up by contracting to build a Police-Fire facility located just off I-93, exit 23, with pre-manufactured building components built off-site, that were trucked to and erected on-site at a finished cost of $143 per square foot.

"We have developed conceptual plans at a cost of $1,000 for the survey and another $1,100 for soils test pits with a professional engineer on-site observing and recording," Betz said, noting that keeping costs low has been one of the top priorities.

"The Town with local volunteer technical assistance is fully capable of performing the role of General Contractor; negotiating out work to Whitefield builders, plumbers, and electricians; and performing building excavation, utility, and site work by the Town Highway and Water Departments," he said. "Some work, such as the concrete foundation and mechanical work, would be bid to out-of-town contractors as was done on the Airport Road Bridge and Library."

Area consultants Provan and Lorber Engineers of Littleton have already given the Town a proposal for the structural work.

Under the CIP Committee's proposal, costly architectural design services, including the typical 20-percent markup, would be skipped. "We have found local Whitefield builders/contractors will take pride in their work and will do a good job," Betz said, pointing to several smaller projects done over the years in town.

"Gradation and compaction testing of structural fill and road aggregates, as well as taking concrete compression cylinders, will be performed by CMT of Whitefield to ensure compliance with the specifications," he said.

Betz suggested to the select board that it consider entering into a negotiated contract with New England Homes — Preferred Building Systems (PBS) — LaValley Lumber of Claremont.

"PBS produced computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, specs, and costs for our two alternative designs," he said. "The advantage of a pre-manufacturer is that the building will be built to tight-quality control standards by a reputable company. Also, the scope of the work would be reduced with a pre-manufacturer, such that Whitefield trades-people will work on a more manageable project. There are other manufacturers out there, but we would not want to see PBS's prices advertised and shopped around to others as it would not be fair to PBS after it invested so much time and effort, at no cost to the Town to date."

Once the building modules were delivered they would be installed immediately and the building made water-tight, Betz explained. "The proposed building would be energy efficient with R-34 sidewalls and R-49 cellulose ceiling insulation and commercial grade doors and thermal efficient, low maintenance windows," he said. The interior wall covering would be 5/8 inch sheetrock, nine feet high, with suspended ceilings down 12 inches. Exterior trim will not need to be painted, nor will it rot. Vinyl clapboard siding is proposed for the exterior siding. The floor joists will be 2 x 12's at 12 inches on center. The flooring would be commercial grade carpet with premium backing and engineered wood flooring in the selectmen's meeting room and vinyl in the bathrooms."

The building would be fully sprinklered, have both an alarm system and TV surveillance, and also meet all building codes.

"The estimated cost for Alternate #1 is $750,000, and we are working with local builders to get an estimate for Alternate #2, which includes a multi-use room.

"There are several grant programs available to assist the Town handle costs, including for biomass systems plus equipment for emergency operations.

"Both the Fire Station building capital reserve fund (CRF) balance of $100,000 and the Recreation Department CRF with $75,000 (assuming Alternate #2 is selected) could be tapped to reduce any bond to realistic levels, he said.

Voter approval would, of course, be required.

"The town as a whole — and not just water ratepayers — has been paying off a 30-year water system bond at $50,000 a year for the last 22 years, Betz said. "If the Town receives the $180,000 from the sale of the Cherry Mountain land to the U.S. Forest Service to add to the WMNF, the CIP Committee recommends that these monies be applied to further reduce any bond.

"Finally," Betz said, "using a portion of the Town's Fund Balance (surplus) should be considered to reduce debt and interest expenses, depending upon how the ultimate costs work out."

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