Town Hall – 6 Questions

There are six big questions the Board of Selectmen need to answer before the town will sign off on any new building or major renovation:

1) Rental Options.

If working conditions are the only major reason for moving ahead, why not rent space — particularly the empty Saturn dealership or the about-to-be empty Navy office building (behind the Post Office on Sykes Av)? To answer this question, the board must present a three year cost for renting appropriate space, and identify all the reasonable options available in town — including spaces on Main St in downtown WRJ, out on Rt 5 in Wilder, etc. A 3 year horizon would get the offices moved by, say, September 1 and give the town breathing space to assess municipal needs — both town and school — in a disciplined, strategic, comprehensive manner.

2) Revisiting the Renovation Option

Many in town feel the Town Hall renovation bond issue should have been put in front of the town again, that it was doomed to fail by being offered in the same year as the water treatment plant bond. That option needs to be put on the table and re-costed in light of the devaluation of both labor and materials the current depression is causing. One cannot argue that building new is now the “same” cost as a renovation that was priced out in 2007.

3) Site selection / Addressing the grand list consequences

If a new municipal office building is in fact the best way to proceed, the question of location cannot be tossed aside. Locating the municipal building on a 100 year flood plain, in an era when 500 year events are happening with alarming frequency, is only one aspect of the siting question. Another is the long-term future of municipal government in Hartford. Looking ahead 50 years, its possible that Hartford will be where the municipal operations for a dozen or more surrounding towns are located. A location nearer the interstate exit at Sykes Ave or out on Rt 5 in Wilder might be a more appropriate long-term location.

These two factors themselves don’t take into account the possible impact on the Grand List. Renting office space, for example, would keep the property on the grand list, and the town could pay part of the rent in the form of a tax credit to the landlord. In addition, the existing town hall could be converted to private property and turned into really cool riverside condos that would fetch a premium and preserve the building.

4) The new-building quality issue

There are inherent conflicts between what the subcommittee suggests in terms of pricing vs what the subcommittee says about quality. On the one hand, they suggest the 20K sqft building can be done for around $4 million — $200/sq ft including outfitting the offices with new furniture and the like. Maybe. That doesn’t sound like the kind of building designed to last a century; it suggests modular construction, possibly with a bricked veneer. While the committee wants to bypass the bidding process to get specific plans drawn up, this would put the power of specification into the hands of one person — Alex DeFelice, chair of the subcommittee. He’ll be the one meeting with the architect and calling the shots about what’s important and what isn’t.

Better: a community-developed spec put out into an international design competition. “Design a Vermont Municipal Building that will last 100 years and lead the transition to the future economy where energy is far more expensive than it is today.” There are hundreds of architectural firms looking to prove their mettle in the area of smart buildings for a very different energy future.

5) Integration of school offices and municipal offices

Getting both arms of local government into the same building would save the taxpayers a lot of money on shared systems, shared maintenance, even shared staff — particularly in the area of finance and technology. The subcommittee admits it has not brought the schools into the discussions at all. This area must be answered in depth and not waved away. It represents an area of continuing cost control that will save the taxpayers millions of dollars over the long term.

6) Offering the citizens real choice

With the first 5 questions, or areas of concern, answered, there are going to be 3 or 4 possible solutions that reasonable people can favor in different degrees. With the technology available to the Town Clerk in our scanning tabulators, it is very easy to set up a “instant runoff” type vote where 3 or 4 or 5 different options would be available on the ballot. Voters would rank the choices in their order of preference; the preference-voting works to identify a choice that a majority would support, either as a 1st or second or 3rd choice.

The prospect of such a vote would create a tremendous opportunity for discussing and debate in Hartford and guarantee the way forward had the backing of a broad cross-section of the citizens of the town.


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These are all very interesting, well-reasoned points. If the municipal building is in the 100-year flood plain what needs to be done to correct that? Can the building be raised, rther than razed?

It’s grandfathered in but that would be lost if the footprint of the building were changed. The property would be 18 inches under water, so a new building on a 2 foot slab would be OK. In a renovation the basement would have to be dealt with to accomodate the flooding. And remember, a 100 year flood would be 18 inches above all of the basement. The basement would flood in lesser floods than a 100 year flood. And finally, in a 500 year flood the water would be many feet higher, and the currents at that junction of the White River and the Connecticut River would be fiercely complex, and probably result in a modular-on-slab building being swept away.

Hi F.X, First of all, can you please explain how the condition of the present building negatively impacts the administration of the town? If you can make an overwhelmingly, convincing argument for spending millions of dollars of taxpayers money to build a new municipal building to achieve something other than a more aesthetically pleasing workspace, then I would vote for your option of selling the building and keeping the park in public hands and locating a new building with a dual purpose of supporting the school district and town offices near the High School Complex somewhere on Tafts flat. Jeff

Nobody who works there or governs there thinks the building will be able to support day to day operations 5 years from now — something fatal to the building’s ability to support workaday activities will happen by then. The mechanical systems are too far gone to provide climate control, space is maxed out, and so on. This was all detailed in the town reports leading up to the renovation bond vote 3 years ago and was never refuted. On the other hand, you do have somewhere between one day and 5 years before you need to move everyone out — not necessarily to a new building or a building the town owns, much less to a newly constructed building.

F.X., Black River Design made this comment regarding WRS in 1/3/08 “their mechanical engineer definitely stated that the heating system in the WRS has failed.” That was three years ago and the school hasn’t had any significant problems. Doomsday scenarios offered by design and construction companies should be dutifully checked out by multiple contractors. If the bldg has a space issue, why not access and renovate the huge space on the fourth floor and put in an elevator. Look what Matt Bucy did with the Tip Top building and for the town in general. He created an exciting space out of a direlict building and filled it with many like-minded artists. Lets preserve and upgrade what we have to make our town an interesting and historically rich place.

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