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Selectmen backing off from major renovation of Brewster Hall

Continuing week economy, need to keep taxes down cited

November 23, 2011
WOLFEBORO — During a preliminary review of potential warrant articles at their Nov. 16 meeting, selectmen indicated that no proposal for major renovations at Brewster Memorial Hall would be put before the voters next March.

Since last March when a $4 million bonded warrant article for the complete renovation of the building fell short of the 60 percent approved needed by 29 votes, selectmen have pursued and discussed various options to reduce the cost of the renovation with the goal of presenting voters with a cheaper alternative on the 2012 ballot. Working with Northeast Collaborative Architects and Conneston Construction Inc., they have looked at reducing the scale of the renovation, phasing it over several years, and doing just the first floor in two phases. They also considered and rejected having a private non-profit developer do the work, raising funds on its own, and having the town pay for the improvements over 15 to 25 years through lease payments.

For the Nov. 16 meeting Town Manager Dave Owen presented three options for selectmen to consider. The first was to renovate only the first floor of the building, keeping the Annex for town offices rather than creating meeting spaces, making the first floor and Annex completely handicap accessible, and replacing the building's heating and electrical systems, improving parking and doing most exterior repairs, for $2.7 million. Because this amount would have to be bonded, a 60 percent favorable vote would be needed to pass it.

The second option was to do what were described as "interim improvements." This would include repairing a dormer that was separating from the roof, replacing carpets and other improvements that would make the first floor space more comfortable and safer for employees and for citizens doing business with the town. The extent and cost for this option is still to be determined. This option would not require bonding and could be passed on a majority vote.

The third option is to create a reserve for future improvements and raise $250,000 in 2012 as the first deposit. This option would also not require bonding and cold be passed on a majority vote.

Owen also included a warrant article to fund interim town offices at an unspecified amount in the event that either of the two proposals for renovation or improvements passed.

Selectmen's views

Selectman Linda Murray said she was disposed to go for the second option (interim repairs) over the $2.7 million proposal or creating a capital reserve. Her main reasons were a concern about the continuing weak economy and the tax impact of taking on either of the two more expensive proposals.

She also said she is now looking at Brewster Hall as a multi-purpose facility, with the first floor devoted to town business and the second for a community center.

She said that if the economy was in good shape, the tax rate was down and Europe was OK, she would go for the $2.7 million proposal. Murray said she wants to see the tax rate go down next year.

Selectman Chair Sarah Silk said that the board needs to correct the perception that the selectmen are pursuing a massive historical restoration of the building. "We are not," she stated. "We are doing health and safety repairs. These are not frivolous expenses but basic improvements to make the building safe for town workers and those doing business with the town."

Silk then cited statistics from Tax Collector Brenda LaPointe showing counter receipts from April through October: April, 1,505; May, 1,405; June, 2619, July 1,949; August, 1,575;eptember, 1,692; and October 1,507. These are a record of computer transactions and do not include questions asked at the counter or requests and transactions received in the mail. It also does not include any transactions from the Town Clerk's office.

Silk's point is that the town is serving a lot of people in Brewster Hall. "It is not about buying space for workers," she said. "We need a safe place a sound building for providing services."

Selectmen Dave Senecal and Chuck Storm did not comment on the Town Hall options. Selectman Dave Bowers was out of town and missed the Nov. 16 meeting.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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