O.B. town hall study shows renovation possibilities

After failed attempts to build a new town hall, the town looks at possible renovations.

Architects from Icon architecture present their town hall feasibility study to selectmen Wednesday. — Brian Dowd

Oak Bluffs is back on track with plans for a renovated town hall, though the renovations could end up costing taxpayers more than a new building would have cost.

Ned Collier and Steven Moore of Boston-based Icon Architecture presented selectmen with a completed feasibility study of the existing town hall. The study assessed the condition of the town hall, and came up with potential options on how the town could renovate it.

The cost estimates for the conceptual designs range from $10 to $11.8 million. Selectman Brian Packish told The Times by phone Thursday that the $9.8 million approved at the 2017 town meeting is no longer on the table, and a new funding request would have to be made at annual town meeting. “We have to go back to voters no matter what,” Packish said.

Icon’s study developed four building concepts, which Collier stressed were not final designs, and were presented for discussion, comparison, and possible recombination. “We’re not putting forward solutions, we’re trying to put forward a general idea of what you want to get accomplished,” Collier said.

The town moved into the former Oak Bluffs elementary school in 2000. In 2017, town voters approved $9.8 million for a new town hall, but the following year, two separate bids for the project came in over budget, the last being as high as $11.1 million, according to Packish. A vote to approve an additional $1.3 million was shot down by voters at a special election in November. 

The town is also nearing the final months of an 18-month lease on a set of temporary trailers across the street. The trailers were meant to house town employees while a new town hall was built, but the trailers have gone largely unused, and were broken into in June. The trailers were leased for $8,200 a month for 18 months. After the lease runs out, the town has the option to rent the trailers on a month-to-month basis, leaving the possibility for them to be kept during the renovations.

The “Light Touch” concept would enlarge the south-facing dormers, creating more space. Most of the town’s departments would stay in existing locations. The “Center Hall” concept would create a large stairway in the middle of the building and expand south dormers for new space. The “Great Room” concept would create a large ground-floor meeting room to be used for town officials and the public, with permitting offices gathered in one room on the second floor. Lastly, the “Front Porch” concept has a covered entry facing the library parking lot, with departments stretched across the building.

According to Moore, previous studies of the building’s foundation found it to be “sound.” 

Packish said Icon did a good job, but more information is needed before the town will make any decision. “The Icon group has clearly demonstrated that a renovation of the building works, and now we need to take the next steps to see if it works for us,” Packish said. “I’m optimistic that we can come up with a unified front at April town meeting.”

Icon will work with selectmen on a schematic design to work through the drawings further, and continue to develop a plan.

“Then the board will decide, do we want to build a new building, or do we want to do a renovation?” Packish said.



  1. I guess I haven’t been following this enough. Renovations never come in on budget because no one can really anticipate what will be found when walls are opened.
    I don’t understand why decision makers don’t think out of the box. All construction on Martha’s Vineyard is extraordinarily expensive. But, thinking out of the box and considering alternatives to stick building may be the answer. Why not a post and beam building with pre-assembled wall and roof panels? The post and beams are pre-cut and assembled on the site and the panels come like a stack of pancakes and are bolted to the timberpeg frame. We just saw how efficient the post and beam construction was at Flat Farm. But there are companies like American Post & Beam and Timberpeg who do the modern version of what the Amish do. Complying with all coastal and energy codes for municipal buildings. Experience has shown that upward from 20% of construction costs can be saved because so much of he labor is done off island. The original $9.8 is probably doable. Too bad the town didn’t think out of the box!

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