Hobson’s Choice

A couple of years ago, our Parks and Rec department was trying to get some traction with an idea for a combination community center/senior center on the site of the current community center. It would have walked out to the new parking lot next to Foss Field and cost a couple of million dollars. It was such a good idea that the Friends killed it in the CIP committee.

If I gave you a few million dollars to improve the facilities available to the various clubs, agencies and service organizations in town, what would you do with it? Would you look for a cavernous old second-floor auditorium or take a serious look at that new community center proposal?

Enter Mr. Hobson and the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall. Eliminate discussion and limit choice to get what you want.

Over the past seven years, they’ve used that formula to obtain more than a million dollars to pursue various Brewster Hall initiatives. What do we have to show for it? More to the point, what should we expect if we quadruple down and give the Friends another four million?

Let’s be clear about their latest Brewster Hall proposal: There are few details, no construction plans, and no contractor cost estimate. They don’t even plan to renovate all of the current town offices. Historic preservation will trump practical considerations and when the money runs out, they’ll be back for more. It’s no surprise that the two Selectmen who have years of experience with construction do not support this warrant article.

Next time you’re in front of Brewster Hall, take a closer look at that Romeo and Juliet balcony on the front of the clock tower. You’ll recall that the Friends had it completely removed and professionally rebuilt five years ago. It took all summer and I have to say it looked pretty good when completed. Today it’s sagging, pealing and rotting. Think four million will buy us another hundred years? Think again.

The only real question before us is whether to go all-in on a 19th century money-pit or hold out for the choice to build practical infrastructure and move forward into the 21st century.

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10 Responses to Hobson’s Choice

  1. Dick Mosher says:

    I hope this is seen by those who wil vote in March.

  2. Allen Kasiewicz says:

    One of speakers at the Deliberative Session last night spoke in support of Article 7 and rattled off a list of “iconic buildings and structures in the US” as examples of architectural pride.
    He failed to mention that each is own by either the Federal Gov’t or large corporations all having large budgets to maintain and operate these structures.

    The Arch in Saint Louis is owned by the National Parks Service
    Seattle Space Needle owned by the Space Needle Corporation which has a single share holder, Howard S Wright (HSW Construction Corp.)
    Empire State Building owned by Empire State Realty Trust a public Company the recently raised 74 million in a recent IPO.

    In Mrs. Murray’s usual style she presented the historical record of ALL the studies and reports that focused on BMH to make her case that they (BOS) understand all of the issues and are following the Town’s wishes – well lying by omission is one of the most insidious techniques used by people wanting to “win at all costs”. She never mentions one of the most important studies; the Town Hall Options Committee Final Report dated 11-8-08 http://www.wolfeboronh.us/Pages/WolfeboroNH_BComm/BOS/Final%20THOC.pdf

    The BOS NEVER even considered recommendation #1 and immediately focused on recommendations #2 and #3 which are both BMH centric.

    I’m writing a letter to the Grunter

  3. Bob Tougher says:

    Bob,

    Your suggestion that the Friends of Town Hall eliminated the idea of a new Community Center at the same site of the existing one is not true at all, and in fact if you check the minutes of our meeting on September 10, 2012 you’ll see that the CIP Committee put the old Electric Building back on the spreadsheet as a possible Community Center, where it now sits as a placeholder for $1 million in 2017. I was against the idea of spending so much money on the Electric Building back in 2011 because we were looking at 3 large projects on Town Hall, The Library and The Public Safety Building at a combined price tag of over $16 million.

    The CIP Committee has indeed been frustrated with a lack of town wide conversation on a new Community Center. In 2012 the Library Trustees floated the idea of making the new Library a combination Library/Community Center with a price tag of approximately $8.6 million, including the architectural/conceptual design, and in 2013 Ethan Hipple floated the idea of a $700 thousand Lodge/Community Center at the Abenaki Ski Hill. This $700 thousand plan was only the first phase of a multi pronged project that would eventually cost $1.2 million. The CIP Committee was cool to both of these ideas because of the costs involved.

    I’m not going to argue the merits of the Town Hall Warrant Article with you because you know I’m in favor of it, but to suggest that the CIP Committee ditched the Community Center in favor of a Great Hall in Town Hall is just plain wrong.

    Bob Tougher

  4. wolfeblog says:

    I did included a link to minutes of the August 2011 CIP meeting. Readers can see for themselves. CIP official records notwithstanding, the question to readers is whether they can imagine a more reasonable way to spend millions of dollars to address the needs of the various organizations in town. What do they think it will cost to heat that 300 seat “Great Hall” on a winter night so that 20 people can have a meeting or whatever? Nor is it possible to reasonably make the place available to more than one group at a time, as would be the case with a well designed community center. Call it what you want – the “Great Hall” is being pitched as a Community Center.

  5. Bob Tougher says:

    I think it’s a great idea to have the Great Hall as a Community Center, with one reason being that it may solve a problem if the warrant article passes, but it never actually occurred to me at the CIP level. I could then visualize knocking down to existing Community Center and Electric Building to provide some green space for the Parks and Recreation Pavilion that Ethan wants to put in next to Foss Field. What the Friends of Town Hall have to do is mobilize all of the seniors and members of the non-profits to come out and vote for a possible new meeting space in our beautiful Town Hall.

  6. wolfeblog says:

    Yea, what a fantastic Senior Center.

  7. Bob Tougher says:

    Bob,
    If the Town Hall Warrant Article fails, do you think it would be a good idea to dedicate a couple of million dollars of taxpayer money toward a new Community Center on Lehner St? Your opening post seemed to indicate that you liked that idea and I would be happy to share your opinions with the CIP Committee this summer.
    Thanks,
    Bob Tougher

  8. Kathy Giebutowski says:

    Last night at the Wolfeboro Town Deliberative session, one of the questions I asked was “If 300 people attend an event at the renovated 2nd floor of the town hall where will they all park.” Mr. Houseman answered that in addition to the spaces at the town hall they can use Carpenter school, the Congregational Church, on street parking and the town lot on Glendon Street. Attorney Walker said they could/should carpool. Okay so maybe only 150 parking spaces are needed.
    The question I should have been asking was “If a commercial enterprise, be it a restaurant, theater or whatever was to apply for permits to open a 300 seat facility in that location I doubt there is any way the application would be approved. But because the Friends of Town Hall and the town employees insist this build remain as the town hall the parking will not be a problem. Might there be a double standard? We will probably never know because the selectmen have steadfastly refused to offer the building for sale and see if a commercial entity would be willing to renovate the building. Isn’t it the responsibility of our officials to investigate all the options available? They have a fiscal responsibility to make the best use of our tax dollars and an energy efficient, ecologically friendly building that will serve the town, cost effectively for the next 40 to 50 years should be the answer.

  9. Bob Tougher says:

    Kathy,
    I think we could ask the same question about parking on Lehner St if a new Town Hall was built there. There is street parking on Lehner St as well as approximately 85 spaces in the new lot next to Foss Field, and then some more parking behind Harvest Market. The THOC study which Mr Kasiewicz posted did investigate other options, and is very positive on the repair of Town Hall. The other options mentioned in the study had a suggested price tag of $2.5 million (in 2008), or only about $500 thousand off the current request in the warrant article for Town Hall. I don’t think selling the building is a viable option after all the money we put into it, and I doubt a sale would ever pass as a warrant article. We’ll probably wind up continuing with incremental repairs if this warrant article goes down.
    There were many numbers thrown around last night, but as of the end of 2012 we had a debt service obligation of about $14 million in the General Fund. (The 2013 report is not out yet) That equates to a debt service amount of approximately $1.4 million this year, or approximately 11.5% of our operating budget of $12 million. The bonding for a Town Hall renovation would not get us anywhere near dangerous territory with our debt service. I don’t agree with Selectmen Senecal and Harriman about an incremental repair indoors, as we could not possibly keep our workers in the building when plaster walls and wood framing started coming down.

    Bob Tougher

  10. wolfeblog says:

    So this comment goes right to the heart of the problem. The Friends huddle in someone’s living room with supportive selectmen for more than a year and decide what the town is going to do with a major public building. Even the dissenting Selectmen were shut out. There is absolutely no forum to vet the plans or allow taxpayers with a different point of view to even know what’s going on, much less comment – until it’s too late. Now we’re expected to bicker and decide over these petty issues when the elephant in the room is a blatant disregard for open meeting laws and the rights of citizens to participate in the process. I hope everyone that participated in the design and planning process votes yes. That should get you 2% or so of the vote.

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