Answering questions about the Town House renovation
To the Editor:
The renovation plan for the Town House calls for demolishing the entire annex located at the back of the structure and renovating only the original Elizabeth Taber building at the front. The professionally estimated construction cost has been reduced by 32 percent since the Finance Committee told us in April 2016 that we must achieve major savings. The resulting plan is lean and efficient, almost 50 percent smaller than the existing building and much less expensive to maintain.
Several recent letters to the editor have made misleading comments about the project that we wish to address:
- “Electronic records storage would save space.”
Not true. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Municipal Records Retention Manual indicates exactly what records must be maintained, how long and in what form they shall be retained. Alternative solutions are non-negotiable. To the extent that electronic storage methods are permitted, our renovation plan includes such storage. But the state requires many paper records to be permanently retained as well – some in a climate controlled vault. Such a vault is included in the renovation plan.
“The offices are not as small in the proposed renovation as they could be in a new building.”
Not true. The office layout in the renovation plan compares favorably with other new town halls and shows that our plan is just as tight and efficient. T2 Architects took the time to study the workings of our Town House, and have done a remarkable job, designing an open, efficient layout in the historic building.
“You don’t need as many bathrooms as are shown in the proposed renovation.”
Not true. The Massachusetts Building Code specifies the minimum number of plumbing fixtures for all new or renovated structures, and that is the basis for the number of our bathrooms.
“It would be best to provide a flexible and open design like many new offices have.”
No, that concept is not the best for a town hall. An ideal town hall is not a dull collection of modular cubicles separated by flexible partitions. The layout of offices in the renovated building suits both the needs of staff cooperation and public interaction. Where groups of offices work closely – such as the Building, Conservation Commission and Planning Departments, or the town Clerk, assessors and treasurer/collector – they share open space. A few larger offices allow staff to spread out and review building and site plans that are submitted for review every day. Privacy is provided where needed. Special equipment such as assessors’ plan racks and a large format copier for the Building Department are accommodated. Corridors are wide and short as befits a Town House. Counters with roll down closures are provided for safe and convenient transactions with the public.
“It would be more advantageous to sell the existing building to a condominium developer because of its premier location in the Village and build a new Town House elsewhere.”
We cannot agree. It would be risky to assume that some developer is prepared to pay anything for the existing Town House. The building could end up as an unoccupied derelict if there is no buyer or if the buyer underestimates his costs. The sale of the Town House for private development would remove land from what is now included in Sippican School’s site. The reduction of its site could make any future additions to the school’s footprint unacceptable to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Public ownership of the Town House insures the historic building’s preservation. Keeping the Town House in the village center is a worthwhile investment for the health of the Village as were the Music Hall, the Elizabeth Taber Library, the Marion Art Center and the post office renovations.
- “Isn’t it too expensive to renovate the an old building like the Town House?”
The project cost will be approximately $150 per average home on the annual tax bill for the term of the loan. Renovation of the Town House is worth the expense. The proposed interior renovation does not include the preservation of historic interior details. There is not that much detail to save. Rather the goal is to reuse the building’s shell while building a new functional interior that finally changes its old school classrooms into efficient town offices. Plumbing, heating and electrical systems that are on their last legs now will be replaced with energy efficient mechanical systems, lighting and controls after the building is stripped of its interior finishes and insulation. The watertight exterior envelope will allow interior alteration work to proceed on schedule regardless of weather.
Why move the town offices out of the Village when the present location serves the community so well?