By Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – Despite a conversation questioning whether or not a warrant article requesting money to acquire a building for municipal space should be removed, the Board of Selectmen decided at its April 15 meeting to keep it.
Chair Angela Thorpe told Reminder Publications
the board made the decision after the owners of a building at 296 North Main St. came to the board with additional information after a memorandum from Department of Public Works (DPW) Superintendent Robert Peirent and Building Facilities Manager Bruce Fenney raised questions following their inspection of the property. The property would cost the town $1.2 million.
She added that a meeting between the DPW and the owners would scheduled.
Peirent said at the board’s April 11 meeting that the building was in overall good shape, structurally sound and has been well maintained, but they did identify some issues.
“Based on those inspections and based on negotiations with several folks including the realtor representing the property owner, we came up with a number of observations and a number of comments regarding that property,” he said.
Peirent noted capacity was a concern. He said the site had 27 non-handicap parking spaces and would be able to provide workspace for approximately 40 employees. He added in conversations with the realtor, he learned that there is “competition for parking between the buildings that exist at that site.”
Tenants of the building in the rear of the property, for instance, he explained, had the right to use parking spaces earmarked for the building at the front of the site, per an agreement with the property owners. Those parking spaces would become the town’s if the building was selected as a municipal office site.
“That we see as one of the more significant items of concern relative to acquiring that building – just having enough parking spaces to serve both the employees in the building and any visitors and residents that will be coming into the building,” Peirent said.
Fenney said the building has a handicap access ramp and the property owner said they would include a new elevator and handicap accessible bathroom. However, the proposal did not include a handicap accessible push button system and the elevator offered was “not advantageous to the town.”
“I believe it does meet some ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] specifications, but the size of the elevator is roughly 36 inches by 60 inches, so I believe it’s quite small,” he said. “In case of emergency, a stretcher from an ambulance wouldn’t even fit in the elevator.”
Peirent also said there would be costs to the town in addition to the purchase price, namely for necessary improvements to make the building usable for town purposes and operating expenses.
“Although the building is in good shape, there are some systems that are nearing the end of their life that would have to be upgraded in the near term,” Peirent said.
Addressing up-front costs, Fenney said the building’s fire alarm system would need addressing and a fire sprinkler system would have to be installed. The HVAC condensing units at the rear of the building were “in pretty poor shape.” Also, none of the building’s hardware, such as doorknobs, are ADA compliant and the building would have to be re-keyed. Peirent added that there was no carpet on the second floor, the interior would have to be painted and there was a need for information technology (IT) improvements.
Peirent said those “near term” or “move in” costs were estimated at $90,000.
Newly sworn in Selectman William Gorman added that he was aware of additional issues with the building from his previous experience working on the property.
He said the back stairwell was known to have a water issue. Fenney said he didn’t see any water damage and added there was the possibility that the issue had been corrected.
Selectman Paul Federici said the town would see a decrease in revenue of approximately $14,000 to $16,000 by taking the building off the property tax rolls.
Federici added that a Town Hall improvement plan developed by the DPW also had potential.
Fenney said one of the major issues with previous plans for Town Hall revolved around proposed additions, which were troublesome because of parking limitations, but the plan he presented did not call for those. The only additional square footage, he said, would be for the addition of an elevator.
Fenney said continuing to utilize the existing Town Hall would maintain a large piece of the town’s identity and it was important to have a single point location where residents could access the necessary departments. He added that the improvements to Town Hall would be necessary even if additional space were acquired.
“The plan that we put together I believe would help and benefit the existing departments,” he said. “You’re going to lose some space in here [the Town Hall hearing room]; some meeting spaces are going to be impacted, but just keep in mind we’re trying to do what we can with what we have.”
Fenney said the current building does not have any bathrooms that are up to current ADA standards and that the electrical system was so old breakers cannot be purchased for replacement. He also said the building lacks a fire sprinkler system.
The first renovation option proposed by Fenney would cost the town roughly $460,000. It would include an elevator, a new fire sprinkler system, electrical switch gear system, and a renovation of the portion of the building constructed in 1967 for new accounting, IT and human resource offices.
“We wouldn’t be touching the old part of the building, just for cost purposes,” he said.
The second option, Fenney explained, was a full renovation of the first floor of Town Hall and the relocation of departments within the building.
“All of the improvements would be done by DPW staff and phased accordingly, so [there would be] less impact to the town departments as those renovations move forward, just as we did at the senior center,” he said.
Peirent added that the Senior Center project cost the town roughly 40 percent of what it would have if the work had been done by an outside contractor and he expected the same for the Town Hall proposal.
Gorman supported the idea of renovating Town Hall and said it was “ludicrous” to look to purchase additional space and it made no sense to him to relocate departments to another building. Using Forest Park Middle School in Springfield as an example, he said the notion that older buildings could not be re-molded for modern purposes was misguided.
Board of Public Works member John Maybury asked the board if it would be possible to start with Fenney’s first option to get the project off the ground and then proceed with the full renovation at a later date.
Federici suggested coming up with a multi-phase plan and budget estimate so the voters at Town Meeting would have an understanding of the need for appropriations over multiple years, a notion to which Gorman agreed.
“You’ve got to tell people the total cost because people are sick of things hidden in the background,” Gorman said.
Maybury said the language for the warrant article drafted by the Board of Public Works would ask for the $460,000 appropriation for this year, but added that it was important to understand that the DPW could complete phase one without the need for additional work if that’s what the town decides.
“It’s not like there is going to be plastic hanging down after we’re done with phase one. We will do it in such a manner that we won’t obligate the taxpayers to go with [options] two or three,” he said. “It will be totally at their option next year.”
Peirent also told the board that the town received word that it would receive $87,263 in additional money to repair potholes from the state.
“What that will mean is our typical Chapter 90 appropriation vote at Town Meeting will increase from $571,000 and change to $669,015 as a total,” he said.