Selectmen vote for new town offices on Lehner Street
Brewster Hall repairs cut to $50,000
December 10, 2009
WOLFEBORO —At a sometimes contentious special meeting before a full audience at the Community Center this past Monday, Dec. 7, the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 to place on the 2010 warrant an article for $4.5 million for new town offices on Lehner Street.
At the same meeting selectmen reconsidered the four warrant articles tabled at the Nov. 23 meeting. Two were restored and two were not. One of the two that was restored – Article M calling for interim repairs and maintenance to Brewster Hall – was reduced from the $110,000 recommended by town staff to $50,000.
The approved warrant articles next go to the Budget Committee for review and then to public hearings.
Town office proposals
The board had deferred discussion of town office proposals at its last regular meeting on Dec. 2 due to the absence of Selectman Chair Dave Senecal. Senecal had just returned from a trip the night before the Dec. 7 meeting. He opened the work session on town offices by stating that there are two proposals to consider: renovate the existing town office building (Brewster Memorial Hall) or build a new town office building.
He acknowledged that most of the comments heard in previous meetings and during public comment tonight were about Brewster Memorial Hall. He said he felt town employees were being "held hostage" in Brewster Hall and had questions about where they would be relocated during construction. He said the town has not maintained its buildings and, while he felt money should be spent on basic maintenance, he did not favor the $110,000 that had been proposed in the table Article M.
Senecal said the key differences between the $3.5 million proposed to renovate Brewster Hall and the $4.5 million proposed for a new office building on Lehner Street were in the functionality of the proposals. He pointed out that renovation work is uncertain and more expensive than you would think. You first have to take things apart and then put them back together again, with a separate cost each time.
Selectman Marge Webster spoke next and addressed the concerned raised about parking at the proposed Lehner Street site. She said there are 19 fulltime employees at Brewster Hall, so only 19 spaces are needed. There are 10 spaces on Lehner Street and 6 or 7 along the 170-foot back of the new building, plus the 80 spaces at the new lot to be constructed off of the existing Glendon Street lot.
Addressing the potential issues with the Department of Environmental Services (DES) raised by Selectman Sarah Silk, Webster said she had talked with Barry Muccio, Wolfeboro Municipal Electric Manager, who she says contacted DES and found no objection to proceeding. Annual costs of $60-70,000 for pumps and wells in the electric building also "will go away" once the new building is completed.
Webster said that Carroll County is the fastest-growing county in the state and expected to grow from 47,000 residents now to 62,000 by 2030. The town should be prepared for growth.
She said she does not want the façade of Brewster Hall destroyed and felt that a party could step in and preserve that building. "Lehner Street is in the core and workable," she asserted. She added that she was committed to finding the best solution for the employees and the town and regrets that the town is divided on the issue. Despite her stated willingness last spring to find a single solution the majority of the board would back, "No one has contacted me from Brewster Memorial Hall." Webster concluded by saying that she likes the Lehner Street proposal because of its future possibilities.
Selectman Kristi Ginter said she was concerned about the cost of doing a renovation to Brewster Hall and cited the cost overrun in the Railroad Station project. She was also concerned about mitigating the mold in the basement and questioned the proposal to relocating employees during reconstruction to the Community Center which she said "has the same smell you get when you walk in the back door of the Brewster building." She read from the Town Hall Option Committee subcommittee report on possible commercial reuse of Brewster Hall and Attorney Tim Bates' opinion that the town could sell the building if it wished. She pointed out that old mill buildings in places like Manchester and Littleton had been commercially reused.
Selectman Linda Murray asked once again if she could see the Lehner Street plan placed on the lot lines because the tax maps were not accurate and she was concerned there was not enough space for any parking. She also cited the lack of parking on Lehner Street now and the loss of 47 parking spaces behind Brewster Hall if that building were abandoned.
Ginter interrupted to raise the question of a potential conflict of interest on Murray's part, since her husband, Roger Murray, was on the Chamber of Commerce Parking Committee. There was a groan from the audience and Senecal called for order. Roger Murray protested that he is not compensated for any of his work and stated that, "the fact that my wife is a selectman does not take away my rights as a citizen." There was a burst of applause from the audience. Senecal rapped his gavel for order.
Murray went on to point out the $1 million difference between the two plans. She also challenged Bates' statement that the town could sell Brewster Hall, citing the wording in the agreement signed by the town with the Brewster trustees when the building was purchased. Not continuing to use the building for town hall and reselling it could be seen as bad faith. Finally she challenged the notion that Brewster Hall was like the Railroad Station, pointing out that McGinley Kaslow did a detailed inspection of the building as part of their services, so there should be very few surprises.
Silk was also concerned about parking on Lehner Street, particularly ADA-compliant parking. She also said increased use of the street could push traffic out to the Center Street intersection – "the worst intersection in town" – where a major accident would be a disaster for the gas station on the corner. She concluded by saying she didn't think anything for $3-4 million would pass this year.
Silk moved to reinstate Article M, the article tabled on Nov. 23 that proposed to make specific repairs and improvements to Brewster Hall for $110,000. Murray seconded the motion. The vote was 3-2 against the reinstatement, with Ginter, Senecal and Webster voting against Murray and Silk.
Senecal then moved $50,000 for Brewster Hall repairs and Ginter seconded. Senecal said the $50,000 would be spent at the discretion of selectmen and Town Manager Dave Owen.
Murray objected that the $110,000 figure was developed by town staff and should not be arbitrarily cut to less than half.
Owen reported that board secretary Terry Tavares got conked on the head by falling ice earlier in the day. He pointed out that the original proposal included a roof for the Annex entrance, recommended by Primex, the town's insurance carrier. Ginter suggested not using the back door to avoid the problem. Owen responded that the other time someone was hit by falling ice it was at the front door.
The vote was 3-1 in favor of $50,000, with Murray voting against and Silk abstaining.
Webster then moved that the town raise $4.5 million for new offices on Lehner Street. Ginter seconded. The vote was 3-2 in favor, with Murray and Silk voting against.
Murray moved that the town add vote tallies to warrant articles, showing how the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee voted on individual articles – a capability now allowed by state law. Ginter seconded. The vote was 5-0 in favor.
The board then reconsidered the other three articles, which had been tabled on Nov. 23.
Article T, which asks for $175,000 to stabilize bank erosion on the Smith River below the Crescent Lake Dam, was restored by a 5-0 vote. Article J for $95,000 to design improvements for Pine Street and Crescent Lake Avenue was not restored, nor was Article K, which asked for $1.2 million to rebuild the streets and sidewalks on Glendon. Lehner, School and Union Streets.
In other business at the Dec. 7 meeting, the board voted 3-2 to appoint Alternate Jim Ladd as a full member of the Historic District Commission (HDC), replacing Ellen Klimm, who had resigned in July. Owen also distributed to board members copies of a letter from consultant H. Bernard Waugh, Jr. dated Dec. 7 giving his formal review of the HDC. A full report on Waugh's review, the alternate vote, HDC actions and a new petition to abolish the HDC will appear next week.
There were numerous comments made during the public input periods before and after the Dec. 7 meeting–-most of them favoring the restoration of Brewster Hall. These will be reported next week.