Council to ask voters to finance new town hall
The Town Council Monday set the agenda for the annual financial town meeting slated for June 5.
In addition to adopting the annual budget, the council will ask voters to approve up to $3 million - nearly $1 million more than expected - for the new town hall complex. The council will conduct a workshop on the plans as part of its May 22 meeting.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the councilors that the increased costs reflect two items - prevailing wages and costs of a full, finished basement. Awardwinning architect William Burgin of Jamestown and Newport gave two presentations about his plans for the new town hall in November and December and projected costs of $2.1 million, based on a base cost of $200 per square foot.
Those costs reflected in part lower wages on private home construction, according to Keiser. The latest estimates are that the town hall project will cost about $265 per square foot, he said.
Keiser referred to possible options, including determining if any modular construction would cut costs, but he did not list other possibilities.
Burgin also expected that the basement would be partial and unfinished, the town administrator reported this week. In one of his presentations, Burgin referred to a full basement for his two-story plan. In another presentation, the architect said the design did not include finishing the basement, but Burgin said then that non-town funds could be sought to finish the space for emergency management needs and for storage.
Keiser said this week that town employee reviews of long-term needs concluded that it would be false economy to build with only a partial, unfinished basement. The intent is for the structure to serve town needs for at least a century, and the space that a full basement would provide was a necessary feature, Keiser said. In response to a question from the council, he said he did not know if assurances could be given about the dryness of the basement.
Councilmen William Kelly and Michael Schnack commented on the urgent need for the town to provide proper town office space, and the council agreed "to tell the public" at its May 22 meeting.
The town wants to consolidate all town offices into a new complex to be to built around the existing Town Hall on Narragansett Avenue. That location now features the 2,400square-foot office of the town clerk and some other town offices.
The town also has its planning department and recreation department in a dilapidated house on adjacent property, and several other offices in another house, also in disrepair, on Southwest Avenue. Those offices would be moved into the new complex. Plans for the old structures have not yet been defined.
Burgin's plan enables saving the existing Town Hall at Narragansett Avenue by lifting and moving the structure and renovating it into a meeting space for up to 100 people, with a totally new 10,400-squarefoot structure built alongside it.
Residents who previewed the design last year applauded the work and especially its use of the existing Town Hall.
The new two-story element, defined last year as having a full basement and elevator, will be connected to the old building with a glass enclosure over a 10foot-wide pathway to be built between the two structures.
The choice of the existing Town Hall location was made after review of seven options, all previously identified. They were the Ceppi property, to the east of Town Hall and on the north side of Narragansett Avenue, the Lawn Avenue School, the Town Office on Southwest Avenue, the town library, the community playground at the library, and the golf course on Conanicus Avenue. Each of those sites have more land but have other drawbacks, the Town Building and Facilities Committee reported last year.
The committee produced a 19page report plus schematics and graphics to detail the considerations in its recommendation that the town retain the Town Hall location to reflect the committee's concept of "strengthening the village center."
The committee's study did not include consideration of strategies for on-going Town Hall work while the construction is in progress, or disposal of the Southwest offices that are owned by the town water department.
Voters at last year's annual financial town meeting agreed to pay up to $300,000 for the design, based on a projected $2 million cost for the new town hall. Burgin completed his design under a $225,000 contract.
According to Burgin, within the new town hall office structure there will be rooms for about 15 department heads and employees, a common mail and office machine room, a tech and computer section, a large public research area, restrooms, a staff break area with a balcony above the records vault, and appropriate file and record storage.
Other financial items
Keiser presented a $18,987,026 finalized annual budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 that provides $11,221,858 for schools and $7,765,168 for town government.
The spending plan would reflect an increase of 4.4 percent for a tax rate of $9.49 per thousand dollars of property valuation, compared to $9.09 for the current year.
Keiser said that rate means a $250 increase for the owner of a median-valued home of $380,000 on the island.