Tisbury’s consolidated town hall task group is recommending a town-owned property on West William Street for eventual placement of a new town hall, over the former EduComp building, previously highlighted as a potential spot. The group is also considering a site at High Point Lane, also a town property, over the EduComp building.
The reordering of site priorities comes from space constraints and high costs with EduComp, while the 55 West William site already has water and power access, and is also centrally located.
Tisbury is planning to consolidate its town administration, finance, planning, and inspection services departments into one location. Whether the police department will be included is to be determined. Town offices are currently split between 51 Spring St. and a town hall annex on High Point Lane. The town has long been considering leaving the Spring Street building, and town office space located in its Katharine Cornell Theater, due to outdated facilities and because of a mold issue. The theater is also used as a performance space.
EduComp has been eyed as a possible site because of its central location near Main Street.
The task group also recommended to Tisbury that if it decides on a new town hall location, it purchase at least two modular buildings — two of the four that the town is currently leasing during the Tisbury School renovation project — to provide 11,000 square feet of temporary office space for an interim town hall. These modular buildings could be located at West William or High Point during construction of a permanent location there. The task group hopes that these units would be needed for 5 to 10 years. This purchase would involve a smaller building, costing approximately $700,000, and a larger building, costing $1.3 million. The purchases would also require a special town meeting.
The task group is still considering how long the modular buildings might be used, whether the town has future projects that would justify purchasing more than two units, and what would happen to the temporary modular buildings once a permanent town hall is in use.
At a joint meeting on Wednesday, the town’s task group, planning board, and finance and advisory committee discussed four potential locations being evaluated for a new town hall building.
Aside from the one-acre site at 55 West William St., the current town hall annex, and the former EduComp building — which is owned by real estate developer Xerxes Agassi — there’s also 386 State Road, which is owned by real estate developer Brooke Katzen.
According to task group member Amy Houghton, 55 West William is the most centrally located, and already has power and water access. For these reasons, the task group says that placing modular buildings there during construction would cost less.
“There would need to be a sewer hookup to bring the modulars over,” Houghton said. “But it seemed as if it might be the most financially prudent and easiest short-term. But, again … we are all very much hopeful that the development of a plan for a permanent town hall is coming parallel to this movement, and that we look at how that can happen.”
Other cost considerations for the placement of modular buildings will involve installing an internet connection, and the possibility of raising the structures to prevent rodent infiltration.
“We feel like over this next period we can get a good handle on the site development … everything it would take to open the doors to the interim town hall,” said task group member Rick Homans. “Something like the online capabilities of the town hall is going to take a lot more work and time … [that] is likely not going to be accomplished in the short time frame.”
For EduComp, Houghton cited space constraints and cost issues. “[Mr. Agassi] is looking at adding residential units and expanding the size of that building. There would be a maximum square footage of 10,000 square feet, and that project would mean essentially a lease for a period of potentially 10 years, and then an option to buy. For us, it seems that the space constraints and the expense associated with that option might not break to the top of [our] list,” said Houghton.
For 386 State Road, Houghton noted problems with associated development requirements. “[That option] would mean purchasing land and developing that land. And we felt that between 55 West William and High Point, that the town owns land that may be as accessible and appropriate for a consolidated town hall.”
Houghton also shared her group’s four main priorities in locating a new town hall. “One, that we would be trying to find the most fiscally responsible way to approach building a town hall … The second was [for] a central location that was accessible. The third was to look at consolidation of town offices,” she said.
“Is there a way to find space that could bring all of the employees to one location — or the vast majority of employees to one location — so that it’s easier to manage, there’s better collaboration across employee pools, and [that] makes work life a little bit more efficient?” asked Houghton.
The fourth objective, said Houghton, is to improve working conditions. “The final one was to do something as soon as we possibly could, based on some of the information we have about the current state of affairs for locations where employees are — the mold, there are rodents in that annex — and trying to find a quick opportunity for us to find a safe and respectful place for the employees of the town to work … there is some urgency in getting employees out of buildings.”
Task group member John Schilling added that another consideration is establishing a central location where citizens can easily conduct business with the town.
Many logistical aspects of the task group’s recommendations were discussed at the meeting, with questions about timelines and costs to Tisbury that the town is yet to decide.
“No matter what, we need an interim — a bridge to the new town hall,” said Houghton, also noting that the Tisbury School project should be completed by mid-August, and no longer need its modular buildings after the school year ends.
Houghton noted a time window for purchasing the units, which are leased until April 15. If Tisbury purchases the units before then, it will not need to keep leasing them for $150,000 monthly for six additional months. “So while it still costs the town, it’s not a complete cost, because some of it would be recouped from some of the savings in the school project,” said Houghton.
When asked how long modular units would be required, Homans noted financial considerations for Tisbury, and the role of ongoing town master planning. “It’s at least five years, and at the most, we would hope it’s 10 years. Key to that is to look at the debt that the town has, and the timing of that debt, and when certain pieces of debt are paid off and what remains to come available,” said Homans. The town is currently paying off debt for the Tisbury School project.
The finance and advisory committee’s Rachel Orr noted some concerns about how long the modular buildings would serve as a town hall, and the possible associated costs. Orr noted that the buildings are designed to last 25 to 30 years — provided that they are maintained properly — and that their roof and HVAC systems would need to be replaced after 20 years.
“It seems like [modular units] might be a really reasonable option, and one that we have enough free cash for that we could just do,” said Orr. “But it all comes down to … how much [money], and then just that longer-term picture … wanting to make sure that we plan appropriately so we don’t do another where it’s, ‘Oh, this is just going to be a year or two,’ and 15 years later we’re still in it.”
Planning board chair Ben Robinson questioned how long temporary offices would be needed, and asked about spending $2 million toward permanent construction instead of on modular buildings. “If the town felt like we had the appetite to do a permanent town hall sooner, we could put that money instead into that permanent solution,” said Robinson. “What we’re missing is … is the community willing to absorb the capital expenses of the high school, wastewater, and the town hall, all within the next 10 years?”
Robinson also highlighted the role of the Tisbury master plan: “We need a better capital planning program so that we’re not guessing.”
He also wondered what town employees might prefer. “Would they rather save the money, hunker down where they are, manage that for another two, three years, and see a new town hall, or move into some sort of temporary space for potentially 10 years, and then maybe see a town hall? All of those … budgets or spreadsheets should be looked at to see, Where are the real savings? What’s the best path?”
Parking availability during construction was also considered. While Houghton stated that the West William site would have sufficient parking during construction and operation of modular units, she added that Tisbury might acquire other properties in that residential area to provide the project with more space.
Houghton says that major points of the process for a new town hall will depend on town meeting votes: “As [a new town hall] relates to debt, it is going to really be town voters [who] make that call.”
One recommendation that Houghton is considering after the joint meeting is that Tisbury create a fund specifically for its new town hall project. This would also be voted upon at town meeting. Houghton says that if this fund is rejected at town meeting, the effect would likely be to delay completion of the project.