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Selectmen consider phased plan for Brewster Hall

Board urged to move employees out of building in any event

June 30, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Wolfeboro selectmen held a special meeting last Wednesday, June 22, to discuss what to do next to rehabilitate Brewster Memorial Hall.

The board had identified the renovation of Wolfeboro's Town Hall as its top goal for 2011. How to do it was the question.

During public input at the beginning of the meeting, former selectman Suzanne Ryan thanked the board for having this discussion, especially at a time when summer residents are here. She said she wanted to remind selectmen that "no means no," that there is no budget available to pursue renovation and therefore no money can be spent for that purpose. "Everyone had their chance, and here you sit with no money."

She went on to criticize the reported efforts to solve the parking problem. "That's nothing new," she asserted, adding that the school district had said previously that they would move Carpenter employees if the warrant article passed.

She also criticized the discussion on May 18 of the Municipal Assets Inventory and how Brewster Memorial Hall is a "big hole" in that plan. She said the town should have a Plan B for Town Hall and criticized Public Works Director Dave Ford's suggestion that a consultant was needed to pull together a final assets plan. "We don't need a consultant," she said.

What the town should be talking about, she said, is a municipal complex.

Workshop discussion

Selectman Chair Sarah Silk began the workshop by reviewing the history of efforts to renovate the building, from the purchase of the building in 2004 up to the failure of the $4 million rehabilitation proposal last March, where 58.4 percent of voters approved but the vote still fell short of the 60 percent required for bonding the project.

She then listed all of the studies that have been done of the building, more than any other structure in town.

Silk then polled the other four selectmen for their views on how to proceed.

Selectman Chuck Storm said he would prefer to proceed with a full project because "we are in a sweet spot," where construction costs are low and so are interest rates. He pointed out that every project the town has bid out recently has come in under estimates. He said he would rather not phase the project because phasing is more expensive.

Selectman Dave Bowers said he has been a Friend of Town Hall for years. He pointed out, as an historian of the town, that Brewster Hall is a good building. He contrasted it to the Avery Building, which is built on "worse ground" but has been renovated three times since it was built. Brewster Hall has never been renovated and yet still stands and is in good shape. He agreed with the need to address the parking issue and for some private money to be raised to show community support.

Selectman Linda Murray reviewed all of the proposals considered for alternate town offices and the fate of the warrant articles that resulted. People have told her their opinions, which seem to boil down to four options: move employees out of Brewster Hall and renovate; do nothing; submit the same proposal again; and phase.

She then recounted a walk around town, touching on all of the other renovation projects undertaken by the town and by the business community. She concluded: "The town looks great … Wolfeboro looks like a community that cares." By contrast, "Brewster Memorial Hall looks like the old Wolfeboro – dilapidated, uncared for. Now is the time to address this building. We need to find a solution."

Selectman Dave Senecal said people have told him not to do anything, but he is willing to back a proposal if the numbers support it. He pointed out that the Railroad Station renovation costs came in higher than expected and took two warrant articles to complete. He referred to a letter from Don Hughes (see below), which he said was interesting and that he agreed with many of his points. In general he was not prepared to do anything to fix the building but wants to be convinced.

Town Manager Dave Owen said he agreed with Ryan that "no means no" and, as a result, "we have to come up with something different, a new approach."

Don Hughes letter

Part of the selectmen's packet was a letter to Town Manager Owen from Don Hughes, who has served on the Wolfeboro planning board and recently developed the Depot Square condominium building. In it Hughes advocated the board aiming for a total cost not to exceed $3 million, making that a firm number. To make that work, he advised keeping the renovation of the Annex as an "ace in the hole," to be renovated last. To him the priorities in renovation were: 1) the exterior of the building, especially as it faces Main Street; 2) "restore the Annex to its former grandeur," taking out the "shoddy carpentry" used to make office space; and 3) housing the staff ("because meeting codes is not a priority, it's non-negotiable").

What Hughes is opposed to is including renovation of the auditorium as part of the plan. "Some long time citizens cannot give up on this one, even though they know that 55 cent movies on Saturday afternoon are not coming back…Conversely, reasons not to save the auditorium abound." Hughes cites the availability of the 200-seat Village Players Theater, the 400-seat Anderson Hall, and the 800-seat Kingswod Art Center auditorium.

Instead of saving the auditorium Hughes advocates using the brightly-lit and airy second floor space for offices made out of movable partitions.

Hughes also advocated not phasing construction, due to the need to meet codes and provide basic services like electric service, HVAC and sprinklers.

Northeast Collaborative proposal

Selectmen were also presented with a written proposal from Northeast Collaborative Architects, the designers of the $4 million modified rehabilitation plan for Brewster Hall. The proposal was prepared in collaboration with Town Planner Rob Houseman, to provide four alternative renovation approaches to the plan turned down by voters last March: 1) to build with a renovated second floor but no additional third floor; 2) to build with no renovation of the second floor and no third floor; 3) to restore the exterior of the building, including steel reinforcement of the roof and restoration of the first floor as Phase 1 of a two-phase process; and 4) to restore/build the second and third floors as Phase 2. The cost of making the four plan alterations was quoted at $5,000, which could be paid from the $6,557 remaining from the 2007 warrant article for Town Hall renovation plans.

Silk referred to the NCA proposal and asked what the board thought about it. Houseman was asked to explain how the proposal came about. He said after the March vote he set about determining logical break points that would allow the work to be done in part or phased. The break points he felt were structural, energy efficiency and working space. At each phase you would need to address all three. For example, you could do only the first floor and not include the annex, but because the annex includes theback entrance and space for an elevator, you would have to do some work there and allow space for future phases.

Senecal pointed out that even with phasing you need to address codes: the building needs to be fully sprinklered, and all life safety codes need to be applied. He felt the board needed to see what each phase looks like.

Storm was concerned that if the renovation was phased, voters might vote for Phase 1 but not Phase 2. Bowers said any proposal for phasing should include a vote on the project as a whole, even if it is done over several years, so that there is no risk of being stopped halfway.

After some discussion it was agreed that NCA proposal is a good idea, but that NCA should be directed to look only at phasing, not taking out parts and reducing the scale as suggested as numbers 1 and 2 in their proposal. It was also agreed Phase 1 should include the Annex as well as first floor, with an option to exclude the Annex, and to make sure all code compliance issues are addressed. Houseman agreed to go back to NCA and ask them to modify their proposal as the board has requested, with the aim of having a clarified proposal ready for the board's next meeting on Wednesday, June 29.

Employee needs

Bob Lemaire asked to speak to the board. He said that selectmen need to address the issue of town employees working in the building. He said the board should not ignore what his group learned in its survey of town residents, that more than half of those surveyed did not want to do anything about the building. "Whatever you do, you need to have a plan for employees. Take a look at leasing space for one or two years…There are huge compliance issues. What are you going to do if the building proposal does not pass? You should not have made moving employees out contingent upon the building proposal passes. You should have that as a standalone proposal so employees are taken care of.. You need a 'game changer' to move forward, and [a standalone plan] would put the employee issue in a new light."

In other business, selectmen accepted a proposal from Town Clerk Pat Waterman to present a Boston Post Cane to Pat Weidner, who is 101. The presentation will take place at Sugar Hill on Wednesday, July 13 at 4:30 p.m.

AJ Coleman
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Varney Smith
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