Is this historic preservation, or not

Is this historic preservation, or not

To the Editor:

Oak Bluffs voters will be challenged on whether or not to vote favorably for allocating $200,000 in community preservation funds for article six in the special town meeting on Tuesday, November 16, at the Oak Bluffs School. The spending article, which comes recommended from the Community Preservation Committee without town counsel review, is a request for additional funds tying in with the $300,000 Seaview Heritage historic preservation project approved by town voters at the annual town meeting in April of 2009. The dilemma voters face is whether or not the allocation of additional money for site improvements around the existing historic structure, the 1931 clay brick bathroom, is an appropriate use of funds for historic preservation, under the preservation act adopted by the town in 2005.

The original Seaview Heritage project was a clear-cut historic preservation application that asked for funds to renovate and make universally accessible the restroom facility on the North Bluff and to restore the Civil War memorial next to it. A total of $290,000 was approved to cover soft costs and do construction for the bathroom. The new application, presented by the Oak Bluffs Park and Recreation Association and the Oak Bluffs Park and Recreation Department, states that additional funding is now needed because delays in other adjacent town works projects and engineering assessments tying in the clay brick bathroom with the new SSA terminal building, Lake Avenue sidewalks and the drainage and rain garden in Waban-Alley Park have driven the cost of the first Seaview Heritage project up by 60 percent.

A review of the current application before voters seems to indicate otherwise.

The September 2010 estimate submitted by the Mashek–Maclean architectural firm shows a revised cost estimate of $406,090 dollars. Unlike the first estimate, that the original Seaview Heritage project’s costs were based upon in 2008, this estimate lists exterior improvements to the work site to include a sitting wall, granite curbs, bike racks, an additional wastewater manhole, landscape architecture and welcome area information kiosk. These additional improvements are the driving force behind the request for additional money to complete the preservation of the clay brick bathroom. The new estimate shows only a $24,300 increase in the actual restoration and rehabilitation of the brick structure. The additional improvements are in reality part of a massive public works project using local, state, and federal funds to rehabilitate the town- and park-owned properties that run along the north shore.

The question posed is whether the additional components that are part of the site area for the brick bathroom can be funded in the category for community historic preservation. The construction of a welcome area sitting wall, at a cost of $31,800, is questioned to be relevant historically to the site of the 1931 structure. Same too is the installation of an information kiosk, valued at $12,000 for its design and construction.

All told, over $155,000 is being asked for in the project warrant article, for improvements that don’t tie in with historic preservation.

And to avoid a potential lawsuit for the inappropriate use of CPA funds, town voters should vote no on the Oak Bluffs special town meeting warrant article number six.

Adam Wilson

Oak Bluffs