Oak Bluffs town hall is on shaky footing

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File photo by Mae Deary

A preliminary structural analysis on the Oak Bluffs town hall and the Oak Bluffs fire station shows that the buildings are in worse condition than suspected, and that demolition and new construction might be the most cost-effective option. The analysis was performed by architects working with a town building study committee.

Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour highlighted the building conditions in his July 23 report to the selectmen.

“Repairs and required code compliance improvements are so numerous that we are conducting an analysis to determine if it will be more costly to repair the buildings than replace them,” Mr. Whritenour wrote, citing recent meetings with feasibility design architects Keenan and Jenny.

“The fire station is a pre-fabricated metal structure; it’s going to have to be replaced,” Mr. Whritenour said In a telephone interview with The Times. “We knew the town hall is in tough shape. But we had no idea there could be problems with the cement footings. I was surprised to learn they were made with sand from the beach, mixed with salt, which isn’t a recipe for having long-term solid concrete. But it was 50, 60 years ago. When you live on an Island, you make do with what you’ve got.”

Mr. Whritenour stressed that the findings are not cause for alarm, rather, just another step in the process to upgrade some of the town’s outdated facilities. The committee’s final report is due September 1.

Library gets major surgery

While the fate of the town’s older buildings is being decided, one of the town’s newer buildings will receive a much-needed overhaul.

Work began on Monday to replace the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the Oak Bluffs Library. The HVAC system has been an ongoing source of problems that began almost immediately after the library opened in 2005.

It was installed by an off-Island firm that went out of business shortly after completing the work. Most recently, the library was forced to close for part of July 18 and all of July 19 when the air conditioning broke down during a blistering heat wave.

The Island firm of BTU Control Inc. won the contract to replace the HVAC system with a bid of $24,950. The work began on Monday and is scheduled to be completed within a week. The new system was designed by RISE Engineering, in conjunction with the Cape Light Compact, at no cost to Oak Bluffs taxpayers.Another Island firm, Rego Paint services, won the painting contract for the library exterior with a bid of $29,400. Work is due to begin next week.

“We’re delighted to have Island companies participating in the procurement process,” said Mr. Whritenour. “When we get local companies that are strongly competitive, it helps the town because we get lower prices and it also helps the Island economy.”