For years, Aquinnah officials have discussed the need for a significant revamping of town buildings like the town hall, the police station, and the restrooms at The Circle — now it seems that process is coming into full view.
At their meeting Tuesday, Aquinnah select board members heard from Karen Salvatore of the town projects committee about the current state of design and planning for long-overdue improvements to these facilities.
As it currently stands, the facilities overhaul will coincide with other improvements to town property that are slated for the coming years. In April, the select board decided to choose the Island Housing Trust (IHT) as the developer for a planned affordable housing complex on town-owned land behind the town hall.
Voters will have to give their approval to hire IHT, which was the lone responder to a Request For Qualifications issued by town administrator Jeff Madison.
Along with the affordable housing, Aquinnah is looking at creating a community playground, a pavilion, and a food forest behind the town hall that will allow for increased public access and programming. The town has been working with the Conway School graduate program to plan for those improvements, but only recently has Aquinnah narrowed down its search for qualified architects and an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) to work on the town buildings upgrade.
Salvatore explained that she owns and operates her own project management firm, called Salvatore Associates, which has conducted business on a national level. She has been working with the town to coordinate the various individual projects in an attempt to find cost savings.
After submitting a Request for Services, Salvatore said, she identified one architectural firm and one OPM that she thought would be good candidates. “We did an extensive interview process, a rating process, and we selected two firms — they are also working on the Oak Bluffs town projects as well, so we know they already have a grasp of working on the Island,” Salvatore said.
Salvatore and the rest of the town projects committee chose Boston-based firms Icon Architects and Atlantic Construction & Management for the project.
For the first phase of planning, the committee will meet with the architect and the OPM for a pre-design brainstorming session to determine the greatest needs of the community in the project areas. “Then we need to engage with the community and the users of the town hall and talk to people up at The Circle, because this project encompasses possible renovations at the town hall and also adding restrooms up at The Circle, which are needed,” Salvatore said.
Once the architect has drafted 50 percent of the necessary construction documents, the OPM will reach out to contractors and material vendors for pricing.
Salvatore said she and the town project committee will also be conducting public outreach to town residents, and specifically to the Wamapanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to guage their interest.
“We are really trying to make this a community effort. Construction will happen in the off- season, and will probably not be completed until 2023,” Salvatore said.
Madison highlighted the fact that, with a municipal project of this scope, a professional architect and an OPM are required to be retained by statute. “We can’t do these kinds of projects without those elements,” he said.
In the fall, Madison anticipates a special town meeting that he hopes will add to the pool of money the town has been able to accrue over the past several years. “But there will ultimately be some cost, undeniably,” he said.
The restrooms at The Cliffs are a central part of this project, and Madison noted that each year, the town foots the bill on repairs to the facilities in order to open them up to accommodate summer visitors. “We are spending an inordinate amount of money on upkeep for the existing restrooms. Over the long haul, we would be better off adding a new building and new restrooms which would eliminate some of the overuse of the current facility up there,” Madison said.
Select board member Gary Haley said the bathroom building at The Cliffs is at least 50 years old, and it gets more and more expensive each year to open the restrooms and keep them in running order for the duration of the summer. “It’s time to replace it once and for all so that we can open it and not have that huge cost each year,” Haley said.
In 2020, the restrooms at The Cliffs failed, and the town was forced to deploy porta potties at the municipal parking lot — driving up the budget for town facilities.
Salvatore added that the size and condition of the town hall and police station isn’t adequate for the number of people who are currently employed by the town. “We have physically outgrown these buildings with the number of people,” Salvatore said.
In other business, the select board mandated that all town employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, or otherwise provide proof of vaccination before they are allowed to work in town buildings. The board checked with town counsel, who confirmed the legality of this decision.
“Adults should be vaccinated, especially anyone who is going to be interacting with the public. For instance, if somebody was working at the lighthouse,” board of selectmen chair Jim Newman said. “They can very easily bring their little paper in to show proof, and that should all be on file.”