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Selectmen accept Friends plans for Brewster Hall

Critics have their say and an alternative plan is presented

November 11, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Supporters and critics of the revised renovation plans for Brewster Memorial Hall packed the library meeting room on Wednesday, Nov. 3, as Wolfeboro selectmen held a required public hearing on accepting the gift of the plans from the Friends of Town Hall.

State law requires town officials to hold a public hearing for any gift worth $5,000 or more. The most recent version of the Friends plans for Brewster Hall is valued at $45,000.

Joyce Davis spoke for the Friends of Town Hall, who are donating to the town the 99 pages of plans prepared by Newport Collaborative Architects (NCA). Davis reviewed the history of the Friends' efforts to come up with an alternative plan for Brewster Hall, leading up to the formation of a committee last April, the presentation of revised plans on Oct. 6 and the submission of final plans on Nov. 3. Davis introduced Holly Grosvenor of NCA, sister of John Grosvenor, who had presented the first NCA plans. Holly Grosvenor has been an NCA Associate for nine years.

Grosvenor started her presentation by assuring selectmen and the audience that the 1890 Brewster Memorial Hall building has been thoroughly studied, praising the work of Structures North, a firm that NCA has worked with in the past. She then presented a PowerPoint slide show that reviewed the major elements of the final revised plans being turned over to the town, including a conceptual site plan showing the relatively minor parking changes and the two main entrances proposed.

A complete review of the plans presented will appear in next week's issue of the Granite State News.

Grosvenor emphasized that the proposed work includes repairs to the exterior (repointing brick and replacing broken slate shingles) and the building windows as well as adding R-30 insulation to enhance energy efficiency. The underlying building is very sound after 120 years of service, she said, and with proper repairs could last at least 100 years more.

She also drew attention to plans to remove the existing dropped ceiling in the second floor auditorium to reveal a stunning and unique vaulted ceiling hidden years ago.

She concluded by stating that preservation is the ultimate recycling and that reusing a sound existing building is more energy efficient that building a new building.

Public comments

Among those speaking in favor of accepting the gift of the architectural plans was Mimi Dye, who pointed out that Brewster Memorial Hall is Wolfeboro's Space Needle or Empire State Building, a distinctive landmark that identifies the town. She also said it should remain Wolfeboro's seat of government. Later she also asked that the tower clock and bell be included in the renovations.

Gary Baker of the Friends gave 10 reasons for renovating Brewster Hall: 10) it was a precious gift to the town that should be retained; 9) it is a beautiful building, recognized as a landmark worthy of preservation; 8) it is the most striking building in town; 7) town employees need a safe building; 6) being downtown the town hall is most accessible to everyone; 5) it is the most acceptable option to Wolfeboro voters, shown by previous votes; 4) the plans being donated take advantage of the $500,000 already spent; 3) the proposed cost is considerably less than the original plan; 2) the town should either support the proposal this time or the building will continue to be an embarrassment; and 1) no other good use for the building has been suggested. Baker concluded with the Kennedyesque statement, "Ask not what you town hall can do for you, but what you can do for your town hall."

Bob Smart, who served on the Town Hall Options Committee stressed his background of 40 years in the facility business at the U.S. Naval Academy and Princeton University, dealing with buildings older than Brewster Hall. He said the 13 "diverse" members of his committee considered all options and could not find any other cost-effective option. He acknowledged that you could build a new building for less upfront but in the long term renovating the existing concrete and masonry structure will be cheaper and will last for centuries. He also agreed the current building was not energy-efficient but could be made just as efficient as a new building. He concluded by saying he had torn down older buildings in his career because they were functionally obsolete: that was not the case with Brewster Memorial Hall.

Mike Cooper, Head of School at Brewster Academy, reminded everyone of John Brewster's will that gave the building to the town for use as a town hall and that 77.6 percent of voters approved the town taking over the building.

Roger Murray submitted a corrected current estimate of $3,574,033 less than the $3.91 million originally calculated and said that with $125,000 in fixed architectural fees and eight percent contingencies, the total estimate stood at $3,984,956, excluding only relocation costs. He also said $85,000 of the $110,000 approved by voters for repairs in March would go toward the renovation and that construction management like that being used in the Kingswood renovation project would reduce costs further.

Among others speaking in favor, Blair Moffett, a 54-year resident of town, spoke as a financial advisor and said that a good steward is not one who squeezes every last dime but one who spends money wisely, and this is a wise investment. Dick Hamilton said the town could not just walk away from such an important building and Bill Swaffield stressed that the town will "never get a better deal than now," and said he had heard the same arguments against the project many times over the past three years.

Those opposed

Bob Lemaire said the building could be renovated at lower cost by replacing instead of repairing the 80 mahogany windows with thermal clad energy-efficient windows. He also pointed out that last year NCA gave a cost estimate of $3-3.5 million and now the cost estimate is nearly $4 million without "soft costs," which could bring the total to $5 million. "Voters rejected the $6.7 million proposal 56 to 44 percent. The reduced scale plan offered as an alternative was not much different than what is being proposed now," he said. He added that UNH Survey Center's Andy Smith assured him that, based on the survey done then, Wolfeboro voters would not spend big money on a building project. He recommended putting two warrant articles to the voters: one being the $4-5 million plan proposed by the Friends and the other a move to an alternate location if the Friends' plan is voted down. Lemaire concluded by saying he was not opposed to accepting the plans but wanted voters to be told the truth.

Allen Kasiewicz read the Other Voices piece published in last week's Granite State News, criticizing how cost estimates were derived and saying the real costs are fast approaching $5 million. He pointed out that the new plans reduced the finished space from 21,600 square feet in the $6.7 million proposal to 16,200 square feet (20 percent less) but the cost estimate to do that is 50 percent less. He said he liked the building but convincing voters to pay $5 million will be hard. He urged the Friends to find a benefactor to give $1 million toward the costs and search for grants to get the totals down.

Josephine Amatucci presented her own alternate proposal for town offices. It calls for keeping the first floor of Brewster Hall only, doing necessary repairs, and moving the planning and Public Works departments in the Annex, along with the Town Manager and Finance Director to a new single-story building on the Ida Glidden lot next to the library. The new building would cost $975,600. The town would reimburse the library trustees $174,460 for their costs to acquire the lot. Cutting trees would cost $8,000; preparing the parking lot would be $30,000 and $100,000 would be spent for geothermal heating and cooling. Adding $100,000 for a new heating system to Brewster Hall (first floor only) and $15,000 for asbestos removal brings the total cost to $1,403,060. For that, Amatucci stressed, the town would end up with two buildings (one very energy-efficient) at a lower cost to taxpayers. She thought the town should also explore renting out the freed space in Brewster Hall and the Annex, including the Town Clerk's office. The Town Clerk could be moved to the Town Manager's space and the Welfare Director could be moved into the main building, saving $7,000 in rent. Since Brewster Memorial Hall is still intact, it could be totally renovated later while taxpayers would pay less now.

Town Manager Dave Owen asked how Amatucci would overcome the fact that the Glidden lot had been purchased by library trustees using library trust funds as a site for a new library.

Selectman Chair Linda Murray said she was not interested in taking land from the library trustees to build town offices and that voters had approved buying the land for a library.

Selectman Dave Senecal asked Grosvenor if the town could use another architect to work with the NCA plans. Grosvenor said the plans being donated were not construction drawings, but said she was not sure if NCA had a continuing interest in them due to their creative contributions.

After the public hearing was closed, the board of selectmen voted 5-0 to accept the renovation plans from the Friends of Town Hall.

Martin Lord Osman
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