The Marion Town House Advisory Committee addressed nearly 40 concerned residents in their first public meeting since forming in January. The committee, which is comprised of 8 members from various boards in the town, held the forum on Thursday, September 20 in the Marion Music Hall.
The board was formed in order to brainstorm ideas for the Marion Town House, which, with its increasing age, is in need of several repairs. The group has three potential solutions for the building: repair, renovate and replace.
In order to better educate themselves, the board studied the 98-page report submitted by New Bedford-based architectural firm Durland Van Voorhis. The document estimated the cost to repair the building would be $5.2 million.
“This plan needs to be carefully thought out,” said Town Administrator and Advisory Committee Member Paul Dawson. “In the meantime, the building is in tough shape.
The Durland Van Voorhis Report cited new drainage and storm water systems, exterior windows and doors, elevators, toilerts, stairs, handrails, counters, fire alarms, insulation, water heater, sprinklers, plumbing fixtures and phone systems as just some of the new items the building would need. Additionally, the building’s vinyl siding would need to be replaced along with repairs to deficiencies in the framing and masonry.
The committee lamented that since the building’s construction in 1877, there has never been sufficient upkeep to the facility, ultimately driving the price tag to a price over $5 million. The committee also warned that if no action is taken soon, the price tag will grow higher.
The committee presented eight remedies that were a combination of repairs, renovations and replacements. The first option would keep the building as it stands and repair the existing elements. The second solution would repair and renovate the entire building to ensure better efficiency. Both of these options can be completed at once or be phased over several years.
The third option would be to sell the Town House to a contractor without restrictions and build a new town office building. The fourth solution would also sell the building to a contractor, but the town would use an existing town-owned building for its offices. The fifth solution would sell the building to a contractor, let them renovate the Town House, and then the town would lease the building back from the contractor.
The sixth and seventh proposals would tear down the back part of the Town House. The sixth solution would eliminate the back portion entirely, leaving 10,800 square feet for town offices, whereas as the seventh proposal would relocate the back of the building to the side, with modern upgrades for better efficiency.
The last solution would be to tear down the Town House and rebuild a brand new facility on the existing site.
Because the solutions are preliminary and relatively vague, the committee expressed the need to hire a Project Manager for $140,000 in order to conduct a feasibility study and to get more details. The committee wanted to gather public input before hiring the manager.
Many of the residents voiced concerns about preserving the charm and the history of the Town House.
“That is the heart of the village,” said Marion resident Carol Sanz. “It represents the character of our town. I would hate to see that change.”
Another proposal that evoked a negative response from residents was the leasing of the Town House.
“I’m beginning to think that is an option that shouldn’t have been presented,” said Jay Ryder, Committee Member and Planning Board Chairman.
Also, residents wanted to ensure increased efficiency for the new Town House, no matter which solution route is selected. Many residents said the ceilings in the present building are too high, thus making cooling and heating very expensive and inefficient.
“The high ceilings are an issue. We should drop some of them,” said Architect Bill Saltonstall. He also suggested that the windows, walls and the building as a whole could be tightened up in order to maintain heating and cooling efficiency.
Whatever the solution may be, residents want to see the price tag less than $5 million. Dawson said there will be several other public meetings before the committee narrows down the solutions to a couple. The remaining proposals will be presented to the selectmen, who will then approve which one will be voted on at Town Meeting.
While the need for a solution is necessary, it isn’t completely urgent, according to Dawson.
“It needs to be addressed fairly soon,” he said. “The building is structurally sound; it’s not going to fall down.”
By Katy Fitzpatrick