West Tisbury faces choice, whether to rehab town hall or build new
West Tisbury residents who packed the Howes House hearing room on Feb. 21 split over the question of renovating the current old town hall or building a new structure. Some expressed surprise at the relatively small cost differences between renovating and building afresh.
The town space needs committee, which sponsored this second of three public forums on a plan for the town government's space needs, presented new estimates for renovating the town hall from $4.8 million to $5.4 million, compared with building a new town hall on a new site, from $4.1 million to $4.6 million, leaving the cost difference between the two options from $700,000 to $1.3 million.
"It's interesting that the cost difference between building and renovating was not as large as we thought it would be," committee chairman Chuck Hodgkinson said. He noted that the new estimates are all under $5.5 million that town voters rejected for a previous town hall plan.
The committee kept the forum's focus on the town hall options and the potential costs of all the space needs, rather than specific building options. Using graphs projected on a Power Point presentation,
Mr. Hodgkinson described how the town could pay for the new space needs with a minimal impact on taxes over the next eight years by adding debt as the town retires its debt service.
After nine months of meetings and study, the committee narrowed the building options to four for the town hall, two for the police department, one for the library and one for a combined animal control, parks and recreation and garage facility. Concept drawings of the options were leaned against a wall for viewing, but were not discussed in detail.
Mr. Hodgkinson said the town hall needs are the most pressing and should be addressed first. The committee has determined that town hall space needs to be increased from its current 4,030 square feet to 7,000 square feet. The proposed options for town hall include renovating and expanding the current 150-year-old structure at State Road and Music Street, building a new two-story structure behind the present building, and building either a new one-story building or new two-story town hall on a different town-owned site.
The response to the most recent space needs survey sent to all registered voters after a Dec. 13 forum attracted only 60 responses, with 30 people stating a preference for renovating town hall. The comments at last Wednesday's forum were similar to the survey responses.
Citizens who spoke at the forum for renovating the town hall pointed out the historic, social and cultural advantages of doing so as well as practical reasons, such as limiting driving to a new site away from the center of town.
"It's really important to save this building," Ben Moore said. "It's a real presence, a historic and appropriate space with three useable floors." Moore has experience in town hall restoration, having been involved in the Chilmark Town Hall renovation.
Virginia Jones and Prudy Burt both favored renovating the town hall, but Ms. Burt asked Pete Timothy of A.M. Fogarty, the chief cost estimator for the plans, his opinion of the current town hall. "It's old and tired and antiquated and out of code," he said.
Selectman Glenn Hearn said he believed sentiment is still high toward saving the town hall. "I'm strongly in favor of it. The town shouldn't sell it." He noted that $500,000 in Community Preservation Act funds could be available for renovating the old building, but would not be available for new construction.
Some residents said they favor preserving the old town hall, which was originally a school building, as a historic structure but for other uses. They supported a new town hall building.
"It would be great to design a brand-new building," Michael Colaneri said. "We shouldn't be thinking about us or this generation, but down the line, and we could save $1.3 million."
Linda and Chuck Hughes expressed their reservations about the lack of maintenance of the present town hall.
"I love old buildings," Linda Hughes said, "but this building has been ignored. It scares me what I'm going to find behind the old wall."
She also suggested selling the town hall, which has been assessed at $320,000. "People here would buy it," she said, which would reduce the cost of a new building.
"We have a great opportunity to start from scratch and build a new building, and help our youngsters and grandkids," Chuck Hughes said. "I'm not impressed how the town has dealt with its buildings."
Several people backed town resident Kate Warner, a strong advocate for energy efficient "green buildings," who said, "We need to build another building" and not stick with "this albatross.... The town should focus on the most energy-efficient building now." She said she could help the committee with energy cost comparisons.
When asked about the extra costs of "green buildings," Mr. Timothy said it is usually an additional five percent. However, he said a lot of that cost is already in his estimates because of energy code requirements for electrical systems, insulation, and other factors. "Super green can go off the chart," he added. Mr. Timothy's firm was hired as estimator for the space needs projects.
Sue Hruby of the space needs committee explained why the town cannot just "make do" with the current town hall as some people recommended.
"By law, we must bring the building up to code," she said. "The building is pretty permeable - that's what's saving us - but it's also killing us in terms of energy costs." She said the present building cannot handle the electrical demands of new technology, and the floors can't handle the weight of file cabinets. Other needed updating would include installing an elevator, a new stairway, insulation, hurricane proof windows, and much foundation work.
"We believe the requirements are not lavish," she concluded in response to one survey comment that said, "The town hall plan is too lavish. We don't need a Taj Majal."
The committee's report also listed the mark-up percentages for contingencies for all aspects of the construction, which ranged from eight to 15 percent. But the largest contingency would be the Martha's Vineyard "Island factor" at 36 percent, which takes into account the extra shipping, housing, storage, loss of production and other factors of building on the Island. The total of contingencies added up to 105 percent, or almost $1.5 million, on top of a base cost for materials and labor at $1 million.
Using various graphs, Mr. Hodgkinson explained how the town could pay for the projects, starting with the town hall in two years, by adding debt as the town retires its $900,000 in debt service over the next eight years. If the town chooses to renovate the town hall and received CPA funds, it could lower the debt $100,000 a year, he said.
With these projections, the police station could be built in 2015 for about $2 million and library addition could be started in 2016 for about $2.6 million, assuming $2.5 million is raised locally, the report showed. The committee also recommended delaying construction of a new animal shelter at a cost of $940,000 and exploring other options for a regional facility with other towns.
"Within eight years, we could either finish or start all the major space needs, and it won't affect the town budget," Mr. Hodgkinson concluded.
Judy Crawford urged the committee to look at the overall picture. "It's a mistake to look at it in terms of money," she said, noting that the costs the town is looking at now will seem insignificant in a few years. "Making the right decision is more important than the money," she said.
The audience had high praise and applause for the committee's work and indicated support for its final recommendations. "I will be supportive of whatever the committee decides," Chuck Hughes said. "I've not seen any group work so hard toward a resolution."
The committee plans to have its final recommendations printed in time for the April town meeting. It will also have another public forum the third or fourth week of March to discuss the recommendations.