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Town Hall options and costs detailed at well-attended Community Conversations forum - Cohasset Anchor
Town Hall options and costs detailed at well-attended Community Conversations forum - Cohasset Anchor
Town Hall options and costs detailed at well-attended Community Conversations forum - Cohasset Anchor

Published on: 03/29/2024

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3W5A0125 - Cohasset, Ma

March 29, 2024 By Carol Britton Meyer

Three Town Hall restoration/repair options and related costs, a citizen’s petition related to repairs to 41 Highland Ave., and a proposal for non-profit community groups to use the historic building as a community cultural center comprised the agenda at this week’s Community Conversations forum at Willcutt Commons.

There was a good turnout of interested citizens at the Select Board-hosted meeting.

The forum was part of the continuing discussion centering around the future of the current Town Hall, including a related agenda item for every Select Board meeting.

Since 2008, Town Meeting voters have repeatedly turned down various proposals to repair/restore the building. Special Town Meeting voters approved the $10 million purchase of the entire 1 Pleasant Street building late last year as the new location for town services, but the proposal subsequently lost at the ballot box by 10 votes.

Three options and cost estimates detailed
Assistant Town Manager Michelle Leary presented three 41 Highland Ave. options, noting that the cost estimates are related to 2023 bids and are “the best ones we have at this time.”

The three current proposals are:

  • full renovation of the historic Town Hall and demolition of the Annex involving securing the historic building’s foundation and also the building envelope, including a new roof and windows; adding restrooms; and updating the utility systems and fire suppression system at an estimated cost of $10.7 million.
  • cosmetic repairs and addressing code compliance issues — including securing the building envelope with a new roof and windows, cosmetic upgrades, updating the utility systems and fire suppression systems; interior painting and replacement of the ceiling tiles, light fixtures, and carpet; and exterior maintenance, paint, and landscaping and hardscaping at an estimated cost of $8.4 million.

According to a 2018 property condition report, areas of the Annex siding are peeling, rotting, or warped and the trim at window, door, and column enclosures is rotting and the paint is in bad condition, among other issues that include mold.
Based on the age, current condition, and expected useful life of the Annex, the roof is expected to reach its life expectancy within the next year.

  • purchase of the 7,800-square-foot first-floor of 1 Pleasant St. in Cohasset Village, which is new construction and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant. The Request for Proposals price is $3.2 million.

Screen Shot 2024 03 29 At 9.30.17 Am - Cohasset, Ma

Citizen’s petition explained
Peter Longley, who initiated the citizen’s petition related to repairing and improving Town Hall in three or possibly more phases at a cost of $1 million per year, explained that the proposal would support the “continued presence of [Cohasset’s municipal] offices [at the current location]. This is a fiscally-driven option to an increase in taxes,” he said. Each phase would require Town Meeting approval.

Longley is working with Architect Clark Brewer and Ralph Dormitzer on this proposal.  “The goal is to restore the appearance, functionality, and life to the building where it belongs — on the town common. If we run out of money, [the work] will stop,” he said. “We prize our historic common, its continuity with the past, and the 250-year precedent as the seat of town government.”

One resident didn’t think $1 million a year “would get us anywhere. I can see such a project stretching into 10 years. We need to solve 41 Highland Ave., and until we have an answer, we shouldn’t be looking at other real estate.”

Another citizen asked why there isn’t a maintenance fund to keep up with the needs of the current Town Hall: “That’s why we are in the position we are in now.”

Community cultural center proposal outlined
Cohasset Historical Society Board of Directors member Lydia St. Onge shared a presentation entitled “Reimagining Cohasset’s Historic Town Hall” on behalf of the Cohasset Dramatic Club, Cohasset Historical Society, and South Shore Art Center about the benefits of transforming the 1857 building into a community cultural center run by non-profits to benefit Cohasset and the wider community.

Go to  https://cohassetanchor.com/community-non-profits-create-working-group-to-reimagine-use-of-historic-town-hall/  for full details about this proposal.

Select Board members weighed in after the public comment time.

“If people want a true functioning Town Hall on the Common — at a $22 estimate two years ago — then we will have to pay for it,” Jack Creighton said. “One Pleasant Street was a cheap option, and that didn’t pass.”

It’s the role of the Select Board “to listen to the people,” he said. “Note the number of times the Town Hall has been on our agenda. The meetings are posted, and everyone is welcome to attend. We should be grateful that we all care so much about this town — that’s why we are here [tonight].”

Select Board member Ellen Maher said she’s feeling “some fatigue” around the continuing Town Hall discussions, as are many citizens. “This conversation has been going on since 2008,” she said. “I would love to get this done and move on to fresh business for the town.”

‘We’re not looking for a Taj Mahal’
Maher went on to say that the Annex doesn’t have sufficient space for today’s municipal operations. “There are a lot of hallways and unusable space and no elevator,” she said. “We’re not looking for a Taj Mahal — we want a functional, safe space.”

Member Chris Plecs said he finds the proposed community cultural center to be “a compelling idea to preserve the history of Town Hall,” while 1 Pleasant Street offers a “cheap” option for relocating town services. “Other proposals [with a higher price tag] have failed,” he noted.

Board member Paul Grady expressed concern about town employees who work hard every day “in a building that’s not serving its purpose anymore.”

He also wondered where Town Hall  employees would be temporarily relocated to if the $1 million for 3 or more years proposal were to pass while the work was being done.

‘We lost the ball’
“The  1 Pleasant Street [referring to the $10 million failed proposal] opportunity popped up and we grabbed it,” Grady said. “We lost the ball by not having a 41 Highland Ave. option at that time.”

The board has been “circling around all the options,” Chair Jean Healey Dippold said. “If Town Hall operations were to stay at 41 Highland Ave., the $8 to $10 million cost [related to the options outlined above] couldn’t be funded through free cash, the capital stabilization fund, or with Community Preservation Act funding. Funding [such a project] would require a tax increase. The reality is that [either of those options] would only [involve] minimal repairs.”

The Town Hall issue will remain an agenda item at every board meeting “as we figure out the next practical items and decide what [related] articles to place on the [June 3] Town Meeting warrant,” Dippold said. “Everyone is welcome to come to our meetings.”

More information about Town Hall options will be available leading up to Town Meeting.

Check back for updates.

News Source : https://cohassetanchor.com/town-hall-options-and-costs-detailed-at-well-attended-community-conversations-forum/

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