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"Failsafe" alternative proposal for Brewster Hall fails to gain approval

January 20, 2011
WOLFEBORO — This year's Deliberative Session on Feb. 9 will take place for the first time at the new 900-seat Kingswood Art Center, and, as always, voters will have numerous warrant articles to consider. Among them will be several pertaining to the makeover of Brewster Memorial Hall. There is nothing new about that, but that evening will be the only time that citizens can propose amendments before the final vote in March.

While no plan in recent years has yet received approval from the required 60 percent of registered voters, this year the Friends of Brewster Memorial Hall will have a scaled down yet comprehensive rehabilitation plan with a price tag of $ 4 million.

That plan, previously described in full in this newspaper, has received support from the Wolfeboro Budget Committee and the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen.

Two other town office proposals will be on the warrant without the approval of either the Budget Committee or Board of Selectmen.

The first is from Josephine Amatucci, who has a petition warrant article amounting to $1.6 million involving two separate locations for town offices – one on the land acquired from Ida Glidden by library trustees for library expansion in the next few years. Town counsel has said that if it passes, the town will not be able to move forward on it because the deed restricts it to library purposes (see accompanying story on this page).

Thee second is from Suzanne Ryan, who has a petition warrant article advocating the raising of $250,000 "for the express purpose of replacing and upgrading the electric service and wiring in the basement, first floor and annex of Brewster Memorial Hall for safety and code compliance."

Ryan came before both selectmen and Budget Committee on Thursday evening, Jan. 13 – this first at 5 p.m., the other at 7 p.m. – to make a case for what she called "an incremental step… a counter proposal to give voters another option." She said that she was "worried that voters are being worn down, and that's not a positive attitude."

If the comprehensive plan approved by town officials doesn't pass, Ryan argued, at least there would be money appropriated to address the particular safety concerns named in the warrant. Voters at the Deliberative Session could raise or lower the dollar amount.

She also said that it would have less impact on the tax bill and have "a higher chance of passing." The impact would be a one time only 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed evaluation compared to 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed evaluation for the Friends $4 million proposal, though she admitted that she understood that the amount would decrease each year (Town Manager Dave Owen estimates 10 cents by year twenty).

Budget Committee member Bob Tougher said that he viewed Ryan's option as a distraction, a sentiment echoed by fellow member Scott Smith, the town's former finance director, who added that it would appear as if it was proposing defeat of the Friends' plan.

Tougher questioned why Ryan would want to lock the selectmen and Town Planner Rob Houseman "into a box" with money designated specifically for electric service and wiring and said that he would prefer to leave options open to them in the event that the Friends' plan didn't pass. Budget committee member Allan Bailey said that while the electrical system "is suspect, there are numbers of other items, too many to name right now, that are suspect. It can go on and on."

Bailey went a step further to suggest that if just Ryan's selected items were fixed, they might end up having to be torn out with another plan. In his opinion, doing "one at a time would be less cost effective than doing it all at once."

Frank Giebutowski expressed a similar reservation and said that though he liked the idea of a failsafe, changes in the wording would be needed at the Deliberative Session.

"I don't like to think about spending $4 million," said Harold Parker, "but I love the Town Hall where it is and would like to finally let the Town Hall be a Town Hall. I'm afraid of losing it."

Representing the Friends, Joyce Davis spoke against the petition warrant article saying that now is the time to finish the refurbishment of the town hall as a permanent location. "I see [the Ryan warrant article] as a stop-gap measure" she said and went on to list the deficiencies of the article.

If just some repairs are made, "we'll have a similar debate next year of new versus old," the long term energy savings in the comprehensive plan would be delayed, window upgrades, ADA and building code problems would still not be fully addressed, and "nothing would be done to improve the working conditions of the employees or add needed space" for employees, meetings and storage.

"I'm looking to improve my property values" offered resident Russell Schundler at the selectmen's meeting. In his opinion, Ryan's plan represents a maintenance expense, whereas the Friends' plan represents a long-term investment that would "elevate Wolfeboro as the place to live." Fully taking care of the town hall would generate community pride.

The Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 not to recommend the Ryan article; the Budget Committee voted 8-1 against it too, with Robert Moholland voting in favor of it as a "failsafe" option.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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