Here we go again

The big news, buried in the minutes of the last CIP meeting, is that the Selectmen are planning to make another run at a $4 million restoration project.

Last March, there was a non-binding referendum question on the ballot.  It asked:

Do you support restoration of Brewster Memorial Hall to serve as Town Offices?

A majority of voters – 52% – said NO.

Do you favor rehabilitation of Brewster Memorial Hall by taxpayers as the sole financial support?

An overwhelming majority of voters – 81% – said NO.

The Selectmen have not had any public discussion as to the future plans for Brewster Memorial Hall.  Nothing whatsoever.  How is the decision to put $4 million dollars into the CIP being made?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know exactly what each individual voter thinks or why they responded as they did on the referendum.  But don’t you think it opens up some pretty serious questions about the viability of another $4 million project funded exclusively by taxes?

Folks, that was FIFTY-TWO percent that said NO!  That was you, telling the Selectmen that this isn’t what you want to see.  They don’t even have the courtesy to hold a public hearing to ask those 52% of voters to come in and say what they are thinking.  They couldn’t care less.

I know from talking to many people, that this isn’t about spending money to restore Brewster Hall.  It’s about not believing that it’s going to end up costing what they say.  And they are so right.

Look at the projects that are ongoing:  The fire alarm that was supposed to be $20,000 in the 2011 $4 million warrant is more than $30,000 now that they have properly bid it;  The asbestos removal that was supposed to be $15,000 ended up being $21,000;  The original price that they were using was from 2007!  Replacements for just 24 of the 120 or so windows in the place that were budgeted at $21,000 now cost out at $49,000.

We keep hearing the same old BS.  “This is the most studied building ever”. ” There won’t be any surprises”.  “Construction costs are much lower now”.  They continue to use the same architects who showed up last year with a phased construction presentation that had arithmetic errors resulting in the quoted price being off by $270,000!

I think a lot of voters feel as I do.  The people that are promoting this project, while well intentioned, are just not competent.  We have appropriated more than $800,000 to date and have virtually nothing to show for it.  This project, if it’s going to go anywhere, needs more public vetting, and less public funding.

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6 Responses to Here we go again

  1. Walter Spellman says:

    Bob,

    I have beaten this drum before, but now that the Town owns the McBride property next to the library and the building removed one can get a sense of the size and scope of the parcel and only imagine how nicely a complete municipal complex… town offices, public safety, library, would fit onto that parcel. A re-design or re-asssignment of the library building, a space-sharing plan for the other agencies housed there, and an efficient, up-to-date police and fire facility would certainy cost more on the front end, but over the life cycle of the complex would result in significant energy and maintenance cost savings to the taxpayers. Couple that with the potential to capture some money back from the proper sale of the existing town office building and you have made an honest effort to streamline municipal facility operating costs while improving the working conditions for all those presently working in existing locations and offering a more pleasant environment for those visitors conducting business with the respecitive departments.

    What continues to escape me is why the Board of Selectmen, the Town Planner, and others in a postion to offer something don’t even consider this as a potential option. If their ongoing pursuit of a restoration plan is to justify the eight-hundred thousand dollars already flushed away then shame on them for their constant breach of fiduciary responsibility and shame on us for putting up with it.

    Thank you for your tireless work in monitoring the thoughts of our local “special interest group”.

    Walter Spellman
    Wolfeboro

  2. wolfeblog says:

    Hi Walter,

    Nice to hear from you again. This comment illustrates the wide diversity in opinion concerning the direction the town should pursue. I’m sure that Walter was one of the 52% that said no to restoration for town office use, but there are many who don’t share his particular vision. And that’s the rational that the Selectmen have offered for ignoring a majority disapproval of their actions: There is no single competing idea that gets a majority either. Divide and conquer.

    You are kind to call the present action a breach of fiduciary responsibility. After seeing some of the specifications they are getting for “repair” work, I am preparing to argue that it is a breach of the law. They told us in no uncertain language that this $200,000 was NOT a restoration, yet they are specifying that the work goes beyond current needs to conform to the plans of the $4 million restoration that was defeated at the polls. RSA 32:10 (e) says you can’t fund a project that was explicitly defeated by the voters.

  3. Bob Tougher says:

    I support another warrant article to restore Brewster Memorial Hall for $4 million and I was one of the CIP members who approved putting it on the spreadsheet. In fact I believe it is still considered a “placeholder” and no final decision has been made on it. I base my decision on the last vote of over 58% on the project, and I personally feel it is the right thing to do since we made the decision to purchase the building some years back. Bob, this is your blog and you do a great job with it, but I will not back away from giving you my opinion.
    It appears to me that the Library Trustees have no interest in making the library property part of a “town complex” and have requested a new library building project that totals $8.6 million with the architectural design. They have stated that they can raise half the money through private funds, a tall order I think. I have told the Library Trustees that I will not support an $8 million project, even if they do raise half the money. I just think it’s too much money.

    So how do you feel about an $8 million library?

    Bob Tougher

  4. wolfeblog says:

    That 58% was as good as it gets. The friends put forward a new set of plans and most of the vocal opponents gave it a pass. It was on the ballot unopposed, there was virtually no negative press, the Friends went to the mat with promotion, lawn signs, etc. Yet it went flat at the polls.

    Now we are seeing that estimates that were lifted off that budget are seriously low. Remember, that was a budget for a “design build” project. Had they gone forward, it looks as if the cost over runs would have been huge. And there was serious work that was trimmed from the price, like repointing half the brick. Presumably that would have been requested in a follow up warrant a year or two later.

    Voters went along with it because it was the only thing offered. When asked in the non-binding referendum last year, a majority of voters said they don’t want to do restoration. I think the voters want to do non-historic repairs that would cost a fraction of the proposed budget and result in a more maintainable and efficient building. It seems to be a minority that are passionate about the historic preservation part and it seems to me that they should step up to make up the difference if that’s what they want.

    I have been through the Library several times on a couple of different assessment projects. I don’t see any reason why the roof issues of the present building can’t be addressed, the building renovated, and any necessary additional space added on.

    Thanks for the input.

  5. Bob Tougher says:

    Bob,
    I would like to comment on Mr. Spellman’s remarks on the Library and Public Safety Complex. While it is well thought out, I see several problems. The Library Trustees control the use of the library, and while I don’t have a firm historical grasp on their legal rights in a situation like this, I would imagine that they would have a great deal of say in how the library property is used.
    The property next door, which the town purchased in 2011, has an air-tight deed restriction that it can only be used for library purposes, hence a town complex would have to place a very expensive library building on that property. The rear of the newly purchased parcel is considered to be wetlands, and would probably have to be preserved in it’s natural state, so no parking space could be included. The Bun McBride property is being used to widen the exit driveway from the Public Safety Building so that the larger Fire Dep’t vehicles can have a wider turning access onto South Main Street. The potential town office space would have to be built or added onto the existing library building at it’s own cost, and I question the amount of space left for parking for 2 busy facilities. The Public Safety Building was just renovated and designed to last 10 more years and possibly more, but they are also tight for space. I throw these comments out because I have given it all a great deal of thought, and I wanted to share my thoughts with your readers.

    I’m going to be away for a few days, so I won’t be able to continue this conversation until next week.

    Bob Tougher

  6. wolfeblog says:

    I think we all got the talking points memo when Josephine filed her warrant article and we can all agree that a municipal complex is a non-starter. The reality is that we have a stalemate and that nothing is going to happen – anywhere – until the restorationists back off on their all or nothing demands.

    Reasonable people all over develop modest plans to save old buildings without turning them into museum quality replicas. I read a plea from someone crying because the wide mullions on some windows might be made narrow. I think there may be spotted owls in the attic too.

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