O.B. advances town hall renovation

Icon architecture presents feasibility study; gets green light for more work.

Left to right, selectman Gail Barmakian, Jason Balboni, Brian Packish (chair), Greg Coogan, and Michael Santoro. Also pictured, assistant town administrator Wendy Brough. — Rich Saltzberg

Oak Bluffs continued its beleaguered town hall quest agreeing to hire an architect to take the next step in renovating the existing town hall.

The board of selectmen voted Tuesday night to spend approximately $40,000 on a design plan created by Icon Architecture. The move comes just days after the Boston-based firm presented four alternatives to the town. 

All of this comes after voters rejected spending an additional $1.3 million for a new town hall at a special town meeting in November 2018 after bids came in over initial estimates. Oak Bluffs selectmen are seeking alternative ways to replace or rejuvenate the headquarters for most town offices.

Icon’s Ned Collier and Steven Moore presented the selectmen with a multi-option feasibility study that included an assessment of the current condition of the town hall. The cost estimates for the conceptual designs they presented ranged from $10 to $11.8 million. Selectman Brian Packish told The Times by phone on Oct. 17 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 to voters 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.

On Tuesday, selectmen were ready to move ahead on the project.

“I think they did their job, what we asked them to do, what we hired them to do, which was [the] pretty complex yet simple task of — is it possible to make this building work?” Packish said. “And they answered yes. I would love to have seen the answer that said it was $7 million and I would have loved to see $6 million, even better.”

Selectman Michael Santoro asked if Icon provided comparative figures for a tear down and rebuild versus a renovation. 

“They said it was going to be more expensive,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “I think that’s the extent — or by renovating and using what you have, you’re saving such and such amount of money. That’s what I take as an answer to the question.”

Santoro said he didn’t want the board to find itself in a situation like it has previously when townspeople were told a renovation would be costlier than a rebuild when “we didn’t have solid numbers.” 

“Well I think that’s what this next piece is — you’re a little bit closer,” Packish said. “In my conversations with Icon, they were very careful with the numbers they presented and they brought them in on the heavier side of the spectrum just so they hopefully didn’t get caught that way.”

Packish went on to explain the consolidation process would involve meetings with town departments and other stakeholders to gather the necessary input to arrive at a final concept. The final concept would be presented at a design meeting and a cost estimate for that concept would be provided. 

Speaking to Santoro’s question, selectman Greg Coogan said, “We never charged them with a new building — tear down and rebuilt — so they were only looking at rehab.” Coogan went on to say the board was between a “rock and a hard place” in that voters have made it clear they weren’t game for a new building yet Icon’s “numbers are still as high or higher” than what a new building would have cost based on old estimates. He also said with every passing year, the cost of construction only increases. 

“I don’t think we have any option because it’s going to be more expensive now to build a brand new building. I think this is our only alternative,” he said.

The board voted to approve funding Icon for a consolidated town hall renovation plan with minimal comment from what was a very thin audience. 

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.

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.


Icon presents ideas


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.”