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O'Donnell introduces new town office option

Reuse of former Municipal Electric building would allow phasing of construction

July 28, 2009
WOLFEBORO — At the workshop meeting on July 22, the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen spent most of its time on the question of what to do about town offices, given voter disapproval of all four proposed solutions over the past two years.

In earlier meetings, board members had agreed that something needs to be done about working conditions in the town offices and that selectmen should come up with one proposal to present to voters in March 2010. There was also general agreement that at least in the short term the solution should involve the current town office building, Brewster Memorial Hall, though Selectman Chair Dave Senecal did not rule out a future new building and Selectmen Kristi Ginter and Marge Webster wanted to compare the cost of any proposed renovation with the cost of building new.

The July 22 work session began with Town Manager Dave Owen presenting the views of town department heads on the subject. The department heads propose a two-pronged approach to coming up with a town office plan. The first step would be for selectmen to authorize hiring a professional consultant "as soon as possible" to develop a plan for Brewster Hall that would: 1) maintain the structural integrity of the building, making it weather tight; 2) bring the work space in the building into compliance with all codes (Americans with Disabilities Act, life safety code and the building code); and 3) "maximize energy efficiencies." The consultant's report would then be used to develop a cost estimate for a 2010 warrant article that, if approved, would "establish a baseline work environment that addresses the needs of the residents and town staff."

The second "prong" of the approach would be to develop a long-term solution using a process called Context Sensitive Solutions, to be funded in 2010 through a separate warrant article. This would involve forming a stakeholders group and hiring a professional planner to guide it through a seven-step planning process that would involve active community participation.

Owen said that while department heads agree that the 2009 vote showed that voters preferred Brewster Hall as the town office location, they were concerned that there is not enough space in the building and annex to house the current occupants (town clerk, tax collector, planning department and public works department) over the next 20 years.

He added that, if the board wanted to hire a professional consultant, as recommended, he had identified up to $50,000 in the budget that could be used by deferring some projects.

Webster said she had 15 pages of notes to type up from her own discussions with department heads.

O'Donnell proposal

Senecal introduced a set of plans he had received from Richard O'Donnell proposing to reuse the decommissioned Municipal Electric Building on Lehner Street as part of a broader, phased solution to the town offices problem.

O'Donnell, a retired architect, is a member of Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall and worked with Don Hughes last year to come up with a reduced-scope plan to renovate Brewster Hall, based on the plans developed by architects McGinley Kalsow for the $6.7 million restoration proposal rejected by voters in 2008.

O'Donnell proposes to adapt the Municipal Electric Building for 4,800 square feet of new office space that would eventually house the planning and public works departments, now housed in the Brewster Hall Annex, and also provide about 1,300 square feet for the storage of records now badly housed in the Brewster Hall basement and other locations. The Lehner Street building is in good shape and the front section has no interior partitions, so a two-level office space could be built into it. The back section of the building would provide one level of space, either for storage (as proposed) or as additional office space. If both spaces were used for office space, the total square footage would be more than 6,000 square feet.

The first step in a town office solution would be to modify the electric building for offices. Town staff now occupying the first floor of Brewster Hall would then be moved into the new space to clear the way for the renovation of the first floor. Once renovation of the first floor of Brewster Hall is completed, staff would be moved back into the new space and the public works and planning departments would be moved out of the Brewster Hall Annex into the electric building space. The Annex space would then be converted to a large public meeting room in what used to be the town library.

The restoration of the auditorium on the second floor of Brewster Hall would be left to private fund-raising. Public funds would only pay for town office and meeting space.

O'Donnell asked to address the board on his proposal. He said that this approach could get town employees into better space within a year vs. up to three years for new space. Because of the way they were constructed, both the electric building and Brewster Hall can be made as energy efficient as new construction today. He said he had an estimate from contractor CCI that it would only take five to seven months to renovate the electric building.

Also, by having two buildings, the parking issue would be addressed. By moving employees out of Brewster Hall during the work there, the risk to employees of doing renovations while keeping town offices open goes away.

O'Donnell added that both buildings exist and are "shovel ready," and that it is "greener" to renovate than to build new.


Ginter thanked O'Donnell for his ideas and plans but pointed out that the arrangement would permanently separate the planning and public works department from the rest of town hall staff. Webster said she shares that concern, although she appreciated how the proposal addressed the storage problem, which she said "appalled" her.

Senecal responded that it has only been "in the last 20-25 years" that all departments have been together.

Selectman Sarah Silk, while appreciative of O'Donnell's plan, was concerned how employees in the separated departments will communicate. She was particularly concerned about code enforcement learning about property changes picked up by the assessors.

Owen said that all departments except welfare are tied in at present and new software has been installed that notifies code enforcement of changes.

Selectmen Linda Murray said she liked the O'Donnell plan because it gives options. She pointed out that the town has been aware of code violations since 1998 and that the town did a space needs study for Brewster Hall in 2003 that involved interviewing all employees and projecting space needs for 20 years. She also recounted legal expenses incurred trying to get the Brewster trustees to address the code violations, and recounted the efforts of the past two years to come up with a plan. She said she favored reaching a consensus on a phased plan that would be based on the space needs report.

Senecal asked Murray to give Webster a copy of the space needs study.

Webster said she was concerned that earlier studies focused on historical aspects of Brewster Hall and not the long-term needs of the town. She said she would like to see what could be done at the Lehner Street site building new and then compare.

Senecal said that the town already has a lot of information about Brewster Hall. He said he would like to have a consultant look at the Lehner Street site, including building onto the electric building.

Silk said she liked the idea of using buildings the town already has. She said people tell her "You study things to death but don't do anything." Personally she doesn't see the voters going for a new building in the current economic climate.

Ginter said building new is more cost-effective than renovating two buildings. She also questioned whether the two renovated buildings would meet future space needs.

Murray pointed out that the space needs study said that 18,000 square feet would be needed, but it also projected that the town would have 29 employees by 2008, which did not happen. Given the cost of the school renovations and the proposed $23.6 million new nursing home, voters will be reluctant to support any expensive proposal. She said compromise is needed, that private funding should be sought and the whole project kept under $5 million.

Senecal pointed out that voters have shown they are willing to support good plans, such as the school's. He drew the discussion to a close by saying that square footage will drive the decision and asked Murray and Webster to get together before the next meeting on Aug. 5. A workshop will then be scheduled to carry the discussion further.

Other business

The board set a schedule for 2010 budget hearings that included daytime meetings at 2 p.m. on Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, plus evening sessions beginning at 6 p.m. on Oct. 14 and 15 and Oct. 26, 27 and 28, with a potential final session if needed on Oct. 29.

Selectmen discussed a new no smoking policy to replace an older one that is now missing. Selectmen agreed that they do not want town employees smoking in town buildings and vehicles or on town land. Murray advocated designated smoking areas outside of town buildings, but not in front. Webster asked for signs in restrooms. Owen will modify the draft prepared by Webster for review at the next meeting.

Selectmen agreed to review the form used last year to evaluate the Town Manager and come back with comments for the next meeting. Each selectman will complete an evaluation by Sept. 2, and the board as a group will meet formally with Owen on Sept. 16.

Selectmen had planned to review the wording and scope of the town's Hawkers and Peddlers Ordinance but tabled the discussion until Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary DeVries could be present.

Murray informed the board that a contractor has been pulling milfoil in the Back Bay for three days. There is more milfoil than first estimated.

Owen said that the closing on the parking lot land off Glendon Street would take place on Thursday, July 23.

The next meeting of the board will be on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 6:30 p.m. in the library meeting room.

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