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Selectmen hold bond hearing on Brewster Hall renovation

Petition article for town office alternative faces legal issues

December 23, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Selectmen held public hearings at their Dec. 15 meeting on two of the three 2011 warrant articles that will require bonding.

A third article, on installing a sprinkler system at the Pop Whalen Ice Arena, was not heard because cost quotes are still not final. A public hearing on that article will be held at the next selectmen's meeting on Jan. 5, 2011, along with a petitioned warrant article on alternative town offices (see discussion below).

Brewster Hall renovation

The bonded warrant article that received the most input and discussion was the article for $4 million for the renovation of Brewster Memorial Hall.

Town Planner Rob Houseman gave a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed "Brewster Memorial Hall Rehabilitation," highlighting the key points in the current proposal that differed from previous renovation proposals, including the $6.7 million "restoration" proposal of 2007 and the reduced scale proposal of 2009.

Unlike the earlier proposals this one does not include the costly digging out of the main basement or the attempt to bring the four levels of the first floor into one level. Instead it takes advantage of the height of the second floor to build two levels of offices. This reduces the public auditorium space on that floor but still leaves room for 250 seats.

Also unlike the earlier proposals, this one involved extensive discussion with town department heads and, in turn with their staffs. The result, Houseman noted, is a plan with the full support of department heads.

Houseman also addressed concerns about whether there are hidden problems with the building, such as the town discovered when it went to repair the Railroad Station. He said that Brewster Memorial Hall has been studied extensively, including a complete structural analysis by Structures North Engineers, detailed construction drawings by McGinley Kalsow Architects and rehabilitation plans by Newport Collaborative Architects. The town has more information on the building to start with, he said, than the school district had when it started the Kingswood renovation project.

The building has been also scrutinized by five separate groups, including the original Town Hall Restoration Committee, the Town Hall Options Committee, the Friends of Town Hall, the current Town Hall Advisory Committee and town staff.

In addition, the town is contracting with Building Science Corporation to analyze the building and current plans and make recommendations to improve the energy efficiency of the building envelope and heating/cooling system design. The $20,000 contract, which has approved later in the meeting, will be paid for with funds remaining the original $500,000 design fund.

Houseman said the town has interviewed three construction management firms. One will be selected based on a guaranteed maximum price. The school district used the construction management process with the Kingswood project, and the construction management firm hired, North Branch Construction, has brought the project along ahead of schedule and under budget.

As for the $4 million estimate in the warrant article, Houseman said that right now the budget total, including so-called "soft costs" is $3,933,000. This is an estimate before realizing savings from construction management. He said the town expects to have a guaranteed maximum price by the March vote.

Houseman then reviewed what the cost impact would be on a 20 year bond for $4 million at 4.5 percent. In year one the bond would add 19 cents on the tax rate; by year 20 the cost would be down to 10 cents. Using his own house as an example of someone with a value of $300,000, he said the cost in year one would be $57 and the cost in year 20 would be $30. Over the course of the 20 years, the $300,000 property owner would pay $812. Houseman compared the $57 a year to his cellphone bill, which for October was $101.99.

Finally Houseman address the issue of parking. He said the school district is aware of the issue of Carpenter School staff parking in the town lot and that those cars will be parked elsewhere when the building project is complete.

Public comments

Most of the audience members who spoke were in favor of the warrant article and the idea of renovating Brewster Memorial Hall; however, John Burt, Town Treasurer, said he was concerned about creating and using a third floor space ("it's a long way up, and you have to heat it") and what he termed the "social space" on the second floor: he asked if anyone had considered forgetting about a third floor and using the auditorium space instead. Houseman responded that the Friends of Town Hall would be responsible for finishing the auditorium space. Burt then asked if the town could charge for functions to cover the cost of heating and maintenance. Selectman Chair Linda Murray also noted that there is a shortage of meeting and performance space of this size in town: she cited the new Kingswood Arts Center at 900 seats, Brewster's space at 540 and the Village Players Theater at 160 seats.

Suzanne Ryan said "the jury is still out for her on this project" and made six points: 1) there is no cost for furnishings; 2) does the parking cost include landscaping?; 3) the total bond cost over 20 years has not been given; 4) need a firm price by the deliberative sessions; 5) concern that town might not get quality work in order to keep below the maximum price; and 6) she continues to feel the work should be done in phases.

Among those who made statements supporting the renovation, Mimi Dye stated firmly that Brewster Memorial Hall "is an icon and our signature building. It identifies us." She also said it was more fiscally sound to renovate.

Paula Garvey, a self-described "townie," said "We have to convince others how we will finance it" and that is will be energy-efficient.

Judy Breuninger said she was concerned that voters should know that once the warrant article is passed that grants will be available to reduce the cost. She also said "phasing costs more" and that "the public doesn't want to see this on the warrant again."

Bob Smart, who has had experience renovating older buildings, including ones at Princeton older than Brewster Hall, said that you could invest $1 million in a new building and have nothing to show for it after 20 years. ""This investment will last us 100 years."

After closing the public hearing, the board voted 4-0 to place the warrant article on the ballot.

A second article to upgrade the voltage on Pleasant Valley Road for $675,000, to be paid for through electric rates, was also added to the ballot by a 4-0 vote.

Town office petition article

Murray noted that the town has received a petition warrant article proposing to build a new town office building on land purchased by the library and make minor repairs to Brewster Hall for $1,600,000. A public hearing on the article was scheduled for the next selectmen's meeting on Jan. 5.

Library Trustee Chairman John Sandeen spoke against the idea of taking the land at 263 South Main Street, as the petition article proposes. He noted that the library trustees are bound by the deed to oppose any attempt to take the land for any use other than library expansion.

Other business

Selectmen also approved adding a petitioned warrant article requesting $10,000 to help fund a permanent memorial to General James Wolfe, funded in part by monies returned to the town by the Wolfebore 250th Committee. Warrant articles for the contracts with the police union and town employees union were also added to the ballot,

Selectmen also approved accepting a Homeland Security grant of $2,430 proposed by Fire Rescue Chief Phil Morrill for three years maintenance on the town's dispatch base station.

The board accepted the town Default Budget for 2011 prepared by Finance Director Peter Chamberlin for $24,967,575. This budget is used if voters reject the operating budget prepared by selectmen and approved by the Budget Committee.

Public Works Director Dave Ford read a press release (published on page A4 of this newspaper) on how the town has dealt with issues with the Rapid Infiltration Basin effluent disposal issues, working with the Department of Environmental Services. Copies of the full report are available on the town Web site, www.wolfeborhonh.us.

The board approved sending letters to state officials urging a delay in granting final approval for a Certified Community Residence in Fairway View Estates. Selectman Dave Senecal, who had been involved in constructing that development, abstained from the vote.

The next selectmen's meeting will be on Jan., 5, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. in the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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