To the Editor:
We, the current generation of Marion residents, have been entrusted with a legacy of assets. The character of the town comes from some rather hard to define tangible and intangible elements which include zoning, quality of our schools, the age and architecture of houses, especially in the village, our waterfront and the stunning Tabor campus. One of those elements of Marion’s character is its public buildings.
Buildings such as the town house, library and music hall are not just hard assets or consumables, but have value besides their utilitarian function. They form part of the fabric which is Marion’s legacy and history. There are some very reasonable people in the renovation discussion who, in my opinion, are not giving full consideration to the intrinsic value of the town house, whose value goes beyond its function as a capital asset. If function is all we care about then we could bring in some trailers and stick them in the VFW parking lot. Our legacy buildings should not be judged by function alone.
Elizabeth Taber founded Tabor Academy and left behind the town house and half a dozen other buildings which are all part of the unique heritage of this town. Previous generations passed them on to us as part of that unique heritage. It is our custodial responsibility to restore the town house and fulfill the obligation to those who left it to us and to our future generations.
The “civic center” of the town is formed by the town house, the school, the library, the park across the street, the Art Center and the Masonic Hall. By moving the town government away from the existing building to the other side of Route 6, we suffer two things: a diminishing of the town center and very possibly the ultimate loss of the architecture of the town house since, once in private hands, it could be torn down or significantly altered.
Some years ago, New Bedford made a dreadful decision when they put a highway down the middle of the city, cutting off the waterfront, perhaps the most important asset of the city. The character of the city was permanently changed and New Bedford has been trying to fix it ever since.
Moving our seat of local government away from the center of town would have a similar effect. Changes are incremental. The decision we take regarding town hall will set a precedent. Today the town house. Tomorrow maybe the Library. After all, people will say, “we didn’t save the town house. Why save that old library?” What about the music hall? The unintended consequences will take place over time, including changes in the neighborhood and probable effect on property valuations. The results will only be recognized in retrospect. I prefer not to be asked by future generations, as they are now in New Bedford, “what were they thinking???”
Some will say that the $3 million difference in expense over thirty years (about $40/yr. for the average house in Marion), to renovate the town house is a bad investment compared to the cheaper plan to build a modern building by the VFW, and that money should be spent elsewhere. I am generally conservative when it comes to government and taxation. I am well aware that if the funds for the town house are approved, every taxpayer will be burdened by this project, whether they vote for it or not.
Yet, when calculating what is and what is not a good investment, I might offer the thousand or so boats out in the harbor. Every one of them is a very bad investment when measured strictly in monetary terms. None of us will ever get our money out of them, dollar for dollar, and I would venture to say that as investments they are very big losers.
But in terms of quality of life, they, like the town house and our other historic public buildings, are worthy investments when measured against the full spectrum of how we determine value and quality of life. I would like to keep what we have and pass Marion on to the next generation, improved if possible, but certainly not diminished from what we have inherited.
Ronald Wisner, Marion
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