Architect presents plans for new Town Hall
Award-winning architect and island resident William Burgin revealed his proposed design for a new town hall Monday to about 35 residents who were present to attend Monday’s regular Town Council meeting, which was eventually cancelled (see story on page 11).
The residents applauded the design that retains the existing Town Hall as one of two structures for the new complex. A few residents spoke, praising the design.
Burgin’s firm is based in Newport. He was hired in June under a contract for $225,000 to design the complex, as authorized by voters at last June’s financial town meeting.
The new consolidated town office complex is contained within 10,400 square feet, much of it part of a new two-story-plusbasement rectangular building with an elevator. The existing Town Hall is to be stripped of its front addition, moved several feet west and south, and have its current side entry restored to its front, facing Narragansett Avenue. The two structures will be connected by a glass corridor over a ten-foot-wide pathway to be built between the two structures as an accessible walkway between Narragansett Avenue and West Street.
The town planning/recreation office on West Street, which is in considerable disrepair, at the back of the property will be removed, with a final decision yet to be made on whether that building will be relocated or demolished.
Burgin said he is expecting the estimated cost of $2.1 million to hold as it proceeds through the bid process that could be conducted in early 2006. Town Planner Lisa Bryer said the schedule will enable residents to vote on the matter at the annual financial town meeting that is now held on the first Monday in June.
In addition to council approval, the design also must be approved by the Planning Commission and get a special-use permit and some variances from the Zoning Board of Review, Burgin said.
The architect noted that in discussions with the Town Buildings and Facilities Committee, as well as town department heads, he considered numerous schemes. Those talks included one possibility that was prominent some years ago, to wrap new construction around the existing Town Hall, but ultimately it was concluded that such a design was not functional.
The presentation Burgin gave Monday was titled Scheme Five, and it featured use of the existing building that many townspeople have said they wanted to save. That review showed the latest design plan would be advantageous in a number of ways, he reported.
Relocation costs The architect said he obtained estimates that it would cost about $18,000 to relocate the existing Town Hall within the existing site. That structure will be renovated to provide seating for about 100 people for meetings.
There will also be two conference areas to be used as offices, but capable of being opened to expand the meeting room capacity. Burgin said he had researched statistics about typical attendance at municipal meetings, and found that a 100-seat room was usually adequate for towns with populations of up to 15,000.
He also said it would cost about $18,000 to relocate the planning/recreation building in town, possibly at Fort Getty. He suggested that the building could be functional and could be worth saving.
According to Burgin, the new town office complex will contain rooms for about 15 department heads and workers, a common mail and office machine room, a technical and computer section, a large public research area, rest rooms, a staff break area with a balcony above the records vault and appropriate file and record storage area.
The design does not include finishing the basement, but Burgin said nontown funds could be sought to finish the space for emergency management needs and for storage.
The architectual plans call for only 15 on-site parking spaces, pending zoning approval, to allow for landscaping, including three of four large trees on the property. The fourth tree, which he said was not worth saving, will be replaced with a new one.
Town Planner Lisa Bryer reported that the town is holding talks with the churches — St. Matthew’s to the east and Central Baptist to the west — on either side of the town property about shared use of parking space among the three properties. Bryer noted that Narragansett Avenue has 80 on-street parking spaces Grinnell Street, as well as several on West Street, where additional spaces might be possible.
Burgin concluded his presentation by noting the changes to the existing Town Hall will restore its appearance to what it was 100 years ago. That is when the applause was given.
“Impressive. Very impressive,” Council Vice President Julio DiGiando said.
“I like the idea of saving the old Town Hall,” Councilman William Kelly said. He also called the cost estimates for relocating the structures “outstanding.”
Robert Dolan, a member of the Town Tree Preservation and Protection Committee, said, “It is
terrific design. The look, the access, the functionality — terrific.”
Town Hall history
The current Town Hall at 93 Narragansett Ave. is a one-story clapboard structure built in 1883 containing 2,380 square feet, with a small addition built later.
“The administrative and departmental functions of the town are divided among various buildings. All the buildings are occupied to their maximum capacity and do not contain a unified computer system. With the lack of space, the Town Council and many other boards and committees meet in the library,” according to the town’s Comprehensive Community Plan.
William Burgin Architects conducted a Space Needs Feasibility Study in October of 1999, looking at the current Town Hall site as well as all other townowned lots in the downtown area. The Town Hall site was chosen by 51 percent, compared to 30 percent for the Southwest Avenue location.
At that time, a design for a 9,300-square-foot building was being considered, with space for parking being the only problematic aspect.
William L. Burgin Architects, Inc., was founded in 1989, and bills itself as a firm noted for its awareness of, and sensitivity to, the natural and improved landscapes. The scope of the firm’s projects ranges from residential to commercial and institutional. It is nationally recognized for sensitive and ingenious restorations of historical and architecturally significant buildings.
Burgin’s works include the Jamestown Police Station, which won the American Institute of Architects’ Architecture for Justice Award. His firm also won awards for its Roger Wheeler Beach Pavilion in Narragansett, renovations to the Easton’s Beach building and other projects in Newport. The firm has also won awards for residences in Jamestown and elsewhere, from affordable housing to luxury homes, and for restoration of the Old Providence Journal Building.
Burgin began his architectural apprenticeship in 1967 as an undergraduate at Franconia College in New Hampshire, where he was involved in design and construction of many buildings, including a new dormitory for the college. He transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design in 1969. He worked for architectural firms in Rhode Island until he started his own practice in 1975 that evolved into his firm.
Burgin is a registered architect in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, and Maine. His community activities include directorships for the Jamestown Historical Society, Island Moving Company, the National Tennis Club and the Providence Children’s Museum.