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Northfield Town Hall may get some updates

Town meeting articles could result in $277,000 in upgrades, renovations

NORTHFIELD — Two possible town meeting articles could result in $277,000 in upgrades and renovations to Town Hall.

The Selectboard has put proposals for $150,000 and $127,000 in capital improvements before the Finance Committee. The former would upgrade the wiring in a section of Town Hall, the latter would provide an upstairs meeting room and office for the Selectboard. The board hopes to have both projects on the warrant for the annual town meeting.

The Selectboard agreed that $150,000 wouldn’t be enough to fix all the wiring in Town Hall, built in 1927, but would be a good start.

“The center of the building was updated when we had our elevator installed, but in the front ... from the basement to the attic, it’s all original 1927 wiring, and it’s the same out back,” said Kathleen Wright, Selectboard chairwoman. “We’ve been told that it’s dangerous.”

“We have had many professionals come into Town Hall, to be absolutely appalled by the state of the electrical system,” said Wright. “When we had it assessed last year, it came in at a staggering $370,000.”

The engineering and cost estimate was performed by M/E Engineering Associates of Cheshire, Conn.

Staggering though the figure may be, not all the recommended work may be necessary.

For example, the assessment recommended $47,000 for a Town Hall generator. That could be stricken, said Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson, because the town recently installed one. Another area that wouldn’t need to be done immediately is the suggested outdoor lighting, said Hutcheson.

Board member Dan Gray pointed out that many of the upgrades suggested in the report addressed cosmetics rather than code issues.

“I agree, they put in a lot of aesthetics,” said Wright.

Though some of the report’s suggestions could be ignored or put off, the board would like to address the more pressing problems pointed out.

“My impression is that the highest-priority items are in the first three paragraphs,” said board member Jack Spanbauer. “They amount to about $150,000.”

The brunt of that cost is $64,800 to upgrade light fixtures and wiring, and $53,800 to upgrade outlets and their wiring. Both figures include demolition of existing systems.

High-priority items also included replacement of aging electrical panels, upgrading lines that feed the panels, and adding a service ground rod.

Though the report suggested that these issues could be resolved building-wide for about $150,000, the board agreed that the money would better be spent by upgrading the Town Hall in phases. This way, the building could be divided into three sections, each done separately and completely rather than performing piecemeal upgrades building-wide, only to have to open the walls back up later to do more.

“It’s going to be a huge project, and it will also be disrupting” to those who work in Town Hall, she said.

Focusing on one section at a time would help minimize that disturbance, and also allow the replacement of the building’s telephone and data cables, estimated at $19,900 building-wide.

The Selectboard seeks to make its new home upstairs in Town Hall. The board currently meets in the basement, a room that’s also home to the town’s senior center. For about $127,000, the board could have a new meeting room and separate office, according to an estimate prepared by Brian Humes of Jacunski Humes Architects.

The Selectboard’s new quarters would be built in an unfinished second floor room, which was created when part of the building’s auditorium was walled off to increase office space.

Costs for the room could vary, due to different options to heat and cool the room. The Selectboard will explore these options, which could cost from $8,000 to $15,000, though some roof-mounted options will require an engineer to assess the structure, and may entail upgrades to support the system’s weight.

A $126,000 estimate for the project included the $15,000, roof-mounted system.

Estimates for both projects are likely on the high end, said Hutcheson, and bids for the projects could come in significantly lower. Asking for the higher numbers at town meeting leaves the town’s options open, said Hutcheson.

Town Hall will also see some improvements at no cost to the town. Northfield was designated as a Green Community in 2012, and approved for $143,750 in grants for energy-saving improvements. Air sealing, insulation, and windows for Town Hall’s basement and attic are included in the grant, as well as a small solar electric array at the nearby senior pavilion, and insulation for the library’s basement and attic.

The Selectboard hopes to have the attic’s electrical system fixed first, so the insulation can go in over the new wiring.

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