Town Hall proposal dominated Wolfeboro Deliberative Session

ROGER MURRAY of the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall responds to the proposal by Josephine Amatucci (seat at right) to build new offices rather than renovate Brewster Memorial Hall at the Wolfeboro Deliberative Session on Tuesday evening, Feb. 4. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
February 13, 2014
WOLFEBORO —Selectman Chairman Sarah Silk told residents assembled in the Kingswood Arts Center for the Deliberative Session on Feb. 4. that Wolfeboro will have the chance to have an energy efficient, safe, ADA accessible building with better accommodations for its workers, meeting space, a restored second floor for community activities and an exterior that generates pride.

"We have a window of opportunity this year in which to accomplish those goals with a public/private partnership," she said.

What is different in this latest iteration of town hall proposals? For one thing, the cost has come down. Article 7 in the town warrant, if approved, will allow the issuance of a bond not to exceed $3, 888,600, a lower figure than in the past, the result of basic improvements granted by voters in the last two years.

Not only is that number lower, but it will be offset by $750,000 (amended upwards from $736,000 at the start of the session) offered by the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall and $111,440 of capital reserve funds, bringing the total to be bonded down to $3,027,160.

The plan has been well-studied, noted Silk. The piecemeal work that can be done has been accomplished, "Now let's bring it up to today's standards."

Selectman Linda Murray spoke next in support of the reduced scope renovation with the reminder that bonding is at near record lows. The renovated building will have a single point front entry to the first floor, leading into a common lobby and a hallway from which residents may access private offices in which to do business.

The second floor will serve government and community activity with flexible seating available for up to 300 people, depending on the occasion. A new rear door will allow easy access from the newly renovated. ADA-accessible back parking lot.

At this point, said Murray, the interior of the building needs to be opened up to address code and life safety issues. Installation of a heating and cooling system and an elevator are not the kind of work that can be phased.

Town Planner Rob Houseman, who has overseen renovation work to date, reviewed detailed design drawings for the final restoration of town hall. He told the audience that whatever could be done in phases has been accomplished and that the time has come for the more complex interior work.

Josephine Amatucci offered the opinion that there are far too many offices on the first floor. Wolfeboro should "throw down the building and start new," she declared. She also said that the cost estimates were off and brought up, as she has to the select board recently, that Wolfeboro should build what she referred to as a $1.2 police station that Gilford is building.

Closer inspection reveals that Gilford is asking voters for $1.2 million only to modify the entrance to its police station and expand the existing building from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet.

Another member of the public asked if the improvements that been done to date would become throwaways and wondered if the $500,000 design study (McGinley Kelso structural and engineering report) would go for naught as well.

Houseman assured him that everything that has been done to date was done with an eye to it lasting. In fact, some projects were left undone and await the signal from voters for the renovations on the warrant. The engineering and design study paid for several years ago for a large scale renovation still informs decisions going forward, he stated.

Speaking in support of the article, Friends Chairman Joyce Davis called attention to the over 350 individuals who have signed pledges of monetary support coming to $750,000 for "the most important historical building in Wolfeboro."

Those pledges will only be collected upon approval of Article 7.

Paula Garvey urged voters to "get on the bandwagon" and vote for the warrant, followed by Gary Baker, who stressed the advantage such a public/private partnership provides in creating multipurpose community space.

Kathy Giebutowski came to the microphone to query the two selectmen, Brad Harriman and Dave Senecal, as to their votes against the project and also asked how parking would be handled in the event the second floor was filled to capacity.

Houseman answered the parking question by pointing out that Carpenter School has not had a problem with parking when it holds school events. There is on street parking, the use of the First Congregational Church parking lot when the new church is finished, and the Glendon Street parking lot is nearby.

"300 people at night in winter, we're good," said Houseman, adding, "Summer is different."

Senecal said that in his opinion, the proposal was "too much to absorb" and he sees no gain in office space and no room to grow. Harriman agreed, saying, "Four million is too high a price tag."

"We bought the building for $1 and it would cost us ten to fifteen million to build it new. It's $3.2 million actually," responded Selectman Dave Bowers. "The Chamber sold 3,000 buttons for First Night, ten times more than 300, and we didn't have a problem with parking," he added. Looking at it from an historical perspective, " Paul Revere's grandson built the bell in the clock tower that called your grandparents to school."

"Interest rates are cheaper than in the last 100 years. It costs less than half from a few years ago (the $6.7 million dollar proposal)," he continued, adding that he wasn't sure of a need for increased staff.

Following further voiced support for the project from Mimi Dye and John R. White, Frank Giebutowski, a member of the Budget Committee, seated along the row of committee members down front, said that while he appreciated the effort of the Friends, there has been much discussion but "not enough time planning."

Selectman Linda Murray countered Harriman and Senecal's concerns about needing more space by citing the space needs studies of 2003, 2012, and 2013. The staff size did not grow as predicted.

As for Giebutowski's statement that not enough planning has taken place, Murray reviewed planning efforts in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2003 and 2004. Phasing began in 2012, and at this point, commented Murray, there is no way of phasing the necessary utilities upgrades for the building and mainly the first floor.

"We need ADA code compliant offices and the whole building," she said, finishing with the statement that 10 years after buying the building, "…voters have discussed and argued about Brewster Town Hall for 25 years. So now is the time to support a Public/Private partnership and accept a $750,000 gift by passing Article 7 to rehabilitate Brewster Town Hall."

With the greater part of the evening spent on debate of Article 7, the question was called and Moderator Randy Walker moved forward with the remainder of the warrant.

See separate article on remaining discussions during the Deliberative Session.

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