Redone town hall, sooner, cheaper
West Tisbury's renovated town hall, looking every inch a 19th-century grande dame (in the West Tisbury mode), will reopen for business on September 18, a month earlier than planned and well under budget.
After an almost $5 million, 11-month overhaul from foundation to attic, West Tisbury's 139-year-old architectural jewel will greet her public at an open house shortly after furniture arrives on September 1, renovation committee chairman Bea Phear said last week.
On Friday afternoon, Ms. Phear, West Tisbury building inspector Ernest P. Mendenhall Jr., and a Times reporter walked through the nearly complete 5,580-square-foot three-story building, nearly 12 years after the town began thinking about rehabbing its antique town hall, which did not meet the town's own building codes.
"The construction team will beat its completion deadline, and we will definitely come in several hundred thousand dollars below budget," Ms. Phear said. "Definitely that much and we're hoping for more (savings). We won't know final costs until December." She added that savings in both construction costs and debt service will be realized.
Voters had rejected two detailed plans before approving the current design at $5.2 million in May 2008. At that town meeting, resident Mal Jones said, "I want to keep West Tisbury as West Tisbury. A lot of good people worked really hard on this. Without it, we'll probably end up with some steel building."
In fact, the renovation has produced a graceful building, reminiscent of its original look. "A comment I've really enjoyed came from a resident who stopped me on the street recently and said, 'I thought there was going to be an addition,'" Ms. Phear said, noting the subtle 792-square-foot addition on the building's west side that includes the new front entrance.
The renovation project included: construction of a three-story addition with an elevator; two additional restrooms and a second stairway to the upper floors. About 1,600 square feet of storage space on the third floor has been converted into usable office space.
In all, the new town hall has 5,580 square feet of usable space, compared with 3,192 square feet before the rehab.
The scope of reconstruction included: replacing the foundation, refinishing the exterior, replacing all the windows with energy-conserving components and creating 20 new parking spots.
Keenan & Kenny Architects Ltd. designed the building and J.K. Scanlan Company, Inc. is the general contractor. Both companies are based in Falmouth. Mike Josefek of New Bedford is the town's project manager. Reached this week, Mr. Josefek confirmed that the job will be finished early and below budget. "Credit this (town hall renovation) committee. They did a great job. We were able to work proactively with the architects and the contractor. Great team effort," he said.
During reconstruction, the building security system was adapted to provide access to public rest rooms. The town plans a pilot program allowing rest room access 24 hours a day.
The renovation process carefully included several historical touches. Visitors will find an old slate blackboard on the first floor from the days when the building was the town school. Nineteenth century student work, discovered during construction, will be displayed. The yellow pine floorboards were salvaged from the Boston Navy Base.
And visitors will meet in a public meeting room graced by a long desk crafted by resident Carl Sprague from a West Tisbury oak tree. Several other trees, old town hall friends for decades, have been replanted around the grounds surrounded by native plants. The original granite foundation blocks have been used as steps and approaches to the building.
Interior walls are painted in earth tones with off-white trim on pillars, wainscoting, and window trim and sills. Antiqued electric fans turn slowly on the 9- and 10-foot ceilings. An already functioning energy solar panel system that has generated several hundred kilowatt-hours of solar energy to date will help power a new heating and air conditioning system.
Function has not been sacrificed for form, Ms. Phear said. "The old building was physically uncomfortable - either too hot or too cold. The new building is larger but has much more energy efficiency," she said.
"In summer, we threw paper out all the time," Mr. Mendenhall recalled. "It was too damp to go through fax and copy machines. The machines didn't work,"
"The old building didn't even meet code, and it was a very difficult building for disabled and older people to use," Ms. Phear said, noting that privacy will be enhanced by the use of office cubicles. "There was no privacy for the public or the staff, no place to meet,"
Each floor now has a bathroom, elevator service, and a private meeting space. Space assignments for 14 full-time employees and a handful of part-timers have been made according to function, rather than longevity or personality, Ms. Phear and Mr. Mendenhall said.
All town employees will be in one building for the first time since 2006, when finance officers, the building inspector, conservation commission, and health agents were moved into leased space in the former town library on Music Street.
The first floor will house the executive secretary, town clerk, the building inspector, the health agent and a 14- by 24-foot conference room large enough for many public meetings, including selectmen's meetings.
Planning and zoning and conservation commission agents will occupy the second floor with shared space for the animal control officer, affordable housing and the community preservation committee.
Finance will be headquartered on the third floor, including town treasurer, town accountant, assessors and tax collector.
"People will know where to go and all the people they need for their business will likely be in that place," Mr. Mendenhall said. "It'll be nice to enforce town building codes from a town building that actually meets code," he grinned.