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Selectmen narrow options for Brewster Hall renovation

Firm estimates for replacing Public Safety Building roof authorized

November 03, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Wolfeboro selectmen held a special work session last Thursday, Oct. 27 to review and discuss options for the renovation of Brewster Hall and to consider a request to get different estimates for repairs to the Public Safety Building.

The Town Hall meeting room was full by the time the meeting started with residents interested in the Brewster Hall discussion, but Selectman Chair Sarah Silk moved up the discussion of what to do with the Public Safety Building first since both Public Works Director Dave Ford and Deputy Fire Chief Tom Zotti were present.

Ford said he was looking for the board's approval of using funds left in last year's building inspection fund to develop detailed cost estimates for repairing the building's garage area where the fire apparatus is housed.

He said the issue with the garage is structural. The cement block wall is not reinforced or tied to the roof. The structural repairs he is proposing would address the issue. Also the roof leaks, so including the roof in the repair project makes sense.

Selectman Dave Bowers asked how much it would cost to bring the building up to code.

Ford responded that repairs alone would not bring the building up to code. Replacing the apparatus bays rather than repairing them is estimated to cost $1.2 million.

Selectman and Capital Improvement Program committee member Linda Murray said that replacement of the Public Safety Building is not planned under 2021 at an estimated cost of $4.7 million. She was concerned at whether repairs would keep the building sound for another nine years.

Town Manager Dave Owen said the replacement was moved to 2021 by the CIP Committee to make room for the Brewster Hall renovation in 2012 and the new library in 2016.

Ford said he recommended doing more than the $237,000 allocated in the CIP plan just released due to the roof leaking and the structural concerns.

CIP Committee member Bob Tougher joined the discussion to say the committee didn't want to spend $400,000 on a building that the town planned to tear down, hence the decision to limit to $237,000. He added that the CIP Committee did not have the information about the structural issue at the time it made its recommendation.

Zotti said "the threshold issue is the roof how it handles water and how it is leaking." He said the town would buy the most time and get the most value for its money by addressing the roof.

Ford added that in his experience building engineering estimates have been high. For that reason he wants firmer quotes, hoping it will be less so that all the work needed can be done for not much more.

Selectman Dave Senecal, who helped put up the original building and is Code Enforcement Officer for Ossipee, said that code compliance now calls for and 85 pound load per square foot vs. 40 pounds when the building was built. He said he supported getting a firm price to do the right repairs and pushing out the need to replace the building by doing the repairs.

He reminded the board that the building has been neglected for 20-30 years and that the Budget Committee used to add funds for town building maintenance, but those funds were spent on other things and the maintenance was not done.

Murray said the accident last year where the ladder truck hit a pillar and partially collapsed the roof "brought into focus a building that was not even on the radar" up to that point.

Bowers expressed his concern that the town hire local contractors to do this work. He was dismayed to learn that relatively few local contractors were used in the Huggins and Kingswood projects.

Ford responded that major institutional projects in the $75 million range do not use many residential contractors. Having said that, he also said, "We try to use local contractors for all of our projects."

Discussion having ended, the board voted unanimously to approve spending up to $15,000 of the $26,000 remaining in the building inspection fund to get firm estimates for repairs to the Public Safety Building.

Brewster Hall options

Owen began the discussion by reviewing the lowering of the cost of renovation for Brewster Hall from $6.7 million to $4 million last March and then to $2.8 million for sticking to building essentials plus renovating the first floor of the main building and the annex.

One option selectmen agreed to consider was a sale-leaseback proposal from Public Facilities Investment Corporation (PFIC) that would involve PFIC doing the financing for the renovations and the town paying for it through lease payments for 15 to 30 years.

After receiving the PFIC proposals for both the $4 million complete renovation and the $2.8 million first floor, he obtained bonding cost estimates from the N.H. Bond Bank for the town bonding both options for a 20-year period, and then compared them with PFIC's 20-year quotes.

For the $4 million project the Bond Bank quote of $6,114,444 for principal and interest over 20 years was $1,307,076 less than the PFIC quoted cost of $7,421,520.

For the $2.8 million project the Bond Bank quote of $4,280,11 for principal and interest over 20 years was $1,153,449 less than the PFIC quoted cost of $5,415,560.

Owen said he was not recommending the PFIC approach due to the significant cost premium of more than $1 million over the town bonding the project itself.

Another option Owen explored was what he called "first floor light," which would involve doing a large part of the exterior work and core utilities in the basement plus the first floor of the main building in two stages and making only minor changes to the Annex office space rather than converting it into meeting rooms. The estimate total cost for this option is $2,709,887.

Town Planner Rob Houseman walked the board through the minor changes proposed for the Annex, which mainly involve relocating the receptionist/secretary to make room for a new lobby from the Carpenter School side of the building and blocking off a space for a future elevator shaft. Both the Planning and Public Works offices would remain as they are now.

The second floor would be left untouched, awaiting funding from a donor or perhaps the town at a future date.

All energy efficiency upgrades for the first floor would be made, a high-efficiency furnace installed in the basement, and all utilities and systems brought up to code. The resulting space would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and life safety codes.

Selectman Bowers stated he is "not in thrall to the Friends of Town Hall," but he has friends who are willing to make substantial contributions to the renovation, as he is, once it becomes real.

Selectman Murray thanked the people who had spoken with her about Brewster Hall and said she had read all of the letters to the editor on the subject. She remarked that "we all play around with numbers" and pointed out that the TOCAG survey on town office options got 1,200 responses saying 59 percent did not want Brewster Memorial Hall, while 2,200 taxpayers actually voted for the $4 million renovation plan.

She then reviewed the history of town efforts on town offices, citing a 1989 request for $70,000 for repairs to Brewster Hall that was voted down; a 1993 report from a town committee affirming the need to keep the building for town offices; a 2002 proposal to purchase land south of the library for town offices for $180,000; and the 2004 warrant article to purchase the building for $1, which she pointed out was inserted by petition and not recommend by the Board of Selectmen.

"Now 22 years later the only thing people have agreed on was buying the building," she said.

Murray then listed the 11 proposals made for Brewster Hall: 1) demolish it; 2) rent office space elsewhere and vacate the building; 3) sell to a developer (Murray pointed out that a Chamber/Economic Development Committee tour of 21 vacant commercial properties on Oct. 19 had to be cancelled for lack of interest); 4) erect a new town office building elsewhere (37.9 percent in favor); 5) establish a nonprofit trust to own, renovate and lease the building (Murray said the building was in a trust before the town bought it and it was not maintained; she has cited the example of the Josiah Brown scholarship trust for Brewster students which is still in court); 6) a $4 million renovation proposal which voters turned down last March (Murray says she is not interested in "re-running that up the flagpole"); 7) a $3.6 million renovation proposal; 8) a $2.8 million first floor plan including the Annex renovation; 9) the $2.7 million first floor plan with no significant Annex renovation (heard tonight); 10) a $2 million proposal for the first floor with exterior work; and 11) $1.8 million phased first-floor only plan without annex or exterior.

She said her biggest concern was with the tax rate and how any project would affect it. In the end she would support the $2.7 million plan presented tonight but not anything else.

Bowers gave his view that the town hall should be restored at least to a minimum state, using local contractors, with an attempt made to get private funding. He too expressed concern about the tax rate.

Selectman Chuck Storm advocated limiting the work to the first floor but making sure it is accessible he pointed out that he is disabled. The exterior and roof should also be done he said. He agreed with Bowers that private fundraising can be expected as project takes shape.

Selectman Senecal stated he is "not a firm believer in repairs to this building." He prefers to put up a new building and move once. He said he has a problem with aspects of the proposal, such as repointing 50 percent of the brickwork and using allowances for some parts of the work. "Allowances scare me you can get into the work and find much more is needed," base don his experience as a contractor since 1963.

Chairman Silk said she too was waiting for the 2011 tax rate to be set but said "We need to deal with what we have." She then opened the floor to public comment.

Suzanne Ryan recommended that if the board does move forward with a proposal that there be two warrant articles one to move employees and the other to do the work. She observed that "Years of wrangling have brought the cost down" from the $6.7 million first proposed. As for the Public Safety Building, she said she favors creating a municipal complex. Any proposal should also be considered in terms of paying for bonds for work already done.

Bucky Melanson asked why Murray keeps citing figures about Town Hall when it has been voted down twice. He complained that "plans are always open-ended and never finished." He asked if the roof-spreading problem was included in the plans, to which Owen replied "yes." He stated his view that a new building can be built for less and the current building is falling apart. Owen disagreed with Melsanson and pointed out that the building has stood solid for 120 years.

Russ Schundler commented that themajority had voted to do the renovation and commended selectmen for "continuing to represent the interests of the majority."

Karen Hardenberg said that Brewster Hall was "a really important historic building and speaks for the town." She pointed out it is one of first things you see in town. She too commended the board for working hard and pursuing plans after a contentious election. "I can't wait to donate," she said. "I'm sure you will get a positive response."

Bob Tougher commented that he intends to vote for "any proposal to renovate Brewster Memorial Hall." He said the building needs to be done soon.

Selectman Bowers ended the discussion but stating, "We live in America, not Syria. We need constructive criticism and we appreciate you taking the time to give us your thoughts."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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