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Plan for new town office building presented

Proposal makes use of town-owned land and building

AN ARCHITECT”S DEPICTION of the proposed new town office building, seen from Lehner Street. The existing Municipal Electric building is on the left. (Courtesy of Tennant/Wallace Architects) (click for larger version)
November 25, 2009
WOLFEBORO — At their Nov. 18 meeting selectmen were presented with a second conceptual plan for town offices, and this time the reception was not as welcoming as the first one.

At the selectmen's last meeting on Nov. 4 the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall introduced Architect John Grosvenor of Newport Collaborative Architects, who presented a different approach to renovating Brewster Hall to allow it to continue to be used for town offices. By avoiding the reconstruction of basement areas, as had been proposed by Architects McGinley Kalsow in the $6.7 million renovation plan turned down by voters, and making more creative use of the space in the second floor auditorium, Grosvenor showed a conceptual plan that would lower the cost to the range of $3.1-3.5 million while lowering energy costs.

The plan for new town offices on town-owned land on Lehner Street presented on Nov. 18 by Pete Tennant of Tennant/Wallace Architects was also a conceptual plan – meaning it was not a detailed proposal with full cost estimates, but an approach to town offices that combines the existing brick-and-stone Municipal Electric Building with a new structure built behind and to the right of it. To make room for the new building, the present Community Center would be demolished.

Like the plan presented by the Friends, the Lehner Street proposal was produced at no cost to the town. Tennant/Wallace specializes in municipal buildings and produced the plans in the hope of getting a contract in Wolfeboro. Locally it constructed the additions to the Ossipee and Tuftonboro libraries.

Selectmen Chair Dave Senecal and Selectman Marge Webster had shown Tennant the Lehner Street site and encouraged him to make a presentation.

The combined structure would provide 20,400 square feet of space, with the Municipal Electric building contributing 3,800 square feet on one level and the new building contributing 16,600 square feet on three levels.

The main entrance would be from Lehner Street into a lobby that would give access to the Town Clerk and Tax Collector, provide public bathrooms and two public meeting rooms, a "large" room of 49 by 33 feet holding 120 people comfortably and a "medium" room of 20 by 45 feet holding 50-60 people. The medium meeting room would be accessible after hours without opening the main building. An elevator and three sets of stairs would provide access to the other two floors in the new building.

The lower level, which would also be accessible from the back of the building, would house the public works and planning departments that are currently in the Brewster Hall annex and the welfare department. The upper level would house the Town Manager and provide 12 unspecified offices and a small meeting room for other personnel, presumably including the finance staff.

The new building would have a brick and stone finish and a metal roof, which Tennant described as a "lifetime building" requiring no painting or reroofing. It would be "highly energy-efficient," he said, exceeding the state energy code by 20 percent for both heating and cooling, and the windows would be operable. He estimated the total cost at $4.5 million, "though you could get it for up to 20 percent less today, in this market,"


Reactions to the presentation were mixed. On the positive side Bob Lemaire, who had been involved with the Town Office Citizen's Action Group (TOCAG) and is a member of the Wolfeboro Energy Committee, said he had been looking a plans for years and this one was the best he had seen so far. He did say he thought the design was large for the town's needs, pointing out that Laconia's town offices are 10,000 square feet. Webster pointed out that a space needs study specified 21,000 square feet, and she felt the town should allow space for future uses.

On the negative side Don Hughes, who had been involved with the Friends helping develop plans for a Brewster Hall renovation, said "it looks like déjà vu all over again," referring to 1991 when a new town hall was proposed and did not happen. "The elephant in the room is what to with Brewster Hall," he said. He said he thought there was an agreement not to go ahead before there was a plan for Brewster Hall.

Richard O'Donnell, who had worked with Hughes on Brewster Hall plans and had proposed a reuse of the Municipal Electric building on July 22, was more blunt in his criticism. He pointed out that 53 percent of voters preferred repairing Brewster Hall, that voters rejected relocating town offices and that the Master Plan cites Brewster Hall as the seat of town government. He complained that the presentation was not a full design and had no costs. "Two selectmen seem to think they have better judgment than other professionals," he said with some feeling.

Senecal responded that he didn't appreciate O'Donnell's comments and doesn't want to get into a fight – just present an option for new offices.

O'Donnell asked, "what's the next step?"

Senecal said "there will be a work session."

Selectman Linda Murray read a statement criticizing the board for its failure to address the issue of town offices in the planning and budgeting process. She reviewed what has happened in the town since 2005 when she was elected during a controversy that made it clear that voters wanted selectmen to use warrant articles for new items, not bury them in the budget. The led to a new Master Plan in 2007 and a 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that was supposed to include all significant projects, including town office plans.

"I am disappointed that this board of selectmen never felt the need to inform the CIP committee of an estimated cost of [a] Town Office proposal," Murray said, pointing out that on Aug. 5 the board was informed that Senecal and Webster would be developing a proposal for a 15,000 square foot building on Lehner Street. No cost estimates were given so on Aug. 19 $400,000 was put in by the CIP committee as a placeholder. "It has been 13 weeks since the Town Office project has been discussed at a BOS meeting. . . What has happened to planning? What has happened to discussion and providing information to the public?"

Senecal responded that the intention for that evening was to give the same type of presentation as the Friends has done for Brewster Hall. He suggested further discussion should take place at a work session.

Later in the meeting, after a review of warrant articles (see separate story), Senecal suggested the board could discuss what to put into a town office warrant article when it resumed its warrant article review on Monday evening, Nov. 23.

A complete report on that review, which took place after deadline this week, and any discussion of town offices will appear in next week's issue.

Town of Alexandria
Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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