In an effort to gauge what Oak Bluffs townspeople think about renovating or replacing town hall, the Oak Bluffs planning board (OBPB) conducted a monthlong survey, the results of which were made public last week.
The issue is setting up to be a long debate, with the town almost exactly split — 49 percent said they would support construction of a new town hall if it were on the ballot; 51 percent said they would not.
Of the 468 people that responded to the 20-question survey, 90 percent were year-round residents. More than half of the respondents were over 60 years of age. Only 15 people between the ages of 18 and 30 responded.
More than two-thirds of the respondents were either “somewhat” or “very familiar” with the structural issues at the current town hall, which include a crumbling foundation and myriad infractions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Building inspector Mark Barbados has publicly stated that the building must be in ADA compliance by the end of the calendar year. He estimated the cost of the fixes to be roughly $300,000.
In a 2013 presentation to the selectmen, architects John Keenan and Antonia Kenny said it would be much more cost-effective to build a new town hall than to renovate the current one. Of the $239,000 appropriated in 2013 for a study and plans for a new town hall, $171,000 has been spent to date, according to town accountant Arthur Gallagher.
The survey sought to discern why voters overwhelmingly approved a new $6.4 million town hall at 2014 town meeting, but overwhelmingly rejected it two weeks later at the ballot box. In a question that allowed for more than one answer, 29 percent didn’t think we needed a new town hall, 35 percent didn’t want to fund two projects at the same time, 27 percent thought it cost too much, 30 percent thought it was being forced on them, and 25 percent didn’t want their taxes to go up. 10 percent thought they didn’t know enough about the situation.
An overwhelming majority, 88 percent, believe town hall is in the right location, and two-thirds favor a campus-like setting for town buildings.