Whately heads for decision on revamped town hall

WHATELY — By September 2015, townspeople could have a modern town office with more meeting rooms, a 175-seat air-conditioned auditorium and a fully accessible Town Hall as the civic and cultural center on Chestnut Plain Road.

On Wednesday, the Municipal Building Committee, chaired by Selectman Jonathan Edwards, presented its final design plans for the Town Hall rehabilitation and expansion project. The town has worked with design team, Jones Whitsett Architects of Greenfield.

“It will eventually cost us money to do nothing,” said Edwards.

Restoring one of the oldest town halls in continuous use in Massachusetts, the project is billed as an investment in Whately’s future.

The project is designed to stabilize the building, make it energy efficient, update wiring and HVAC systems, consolidate town offices, gain full accessibility and restore the upstairs auditorium to full utility.

Before any construction can begin, the townspeople will be asked at the April 29 town meeting to approve $3.8 million to support final designs and construction. They will also be asked to approve $50,000 of CPA money per year for the next 20 years for the project.

If voters appropriate the money at town meeting, they will be asked one final time on a debt exclusion to borrow the $3.8 million at the annual election on June 10.

If voters approve, the next step would be for the town to bid the project, which is planned for July. Construction would begin in September. Construction would be finished by July 1, 2015 and the town could move into the rehabilitated building on Sept. 1, 2015.

The town is looking into several options to house town offices and functions during construction, but it has not made any decisions yet. Temporary housing options include space at the First Congregational Church, the Whately Elementary School and the Whately Police Station.

Problems with the existing town hall include inadequate insulation in the roof, walls and floors, inadequate foundation framing to support the structure, leaky single-pane windows that don’t open well, bat and bird droppings in the attic and an unusable second floor. The building is also not fully accessible.

For the rehabilitation portion, the wooden windows would be restored, the slate roof repaired, the original stairs and portico retained and the meeting hall woodwork renovated to maintain the historic character. A high efficiency, electric mini-split heat pump system for heating and cooling would be used.

The building would become fully accessible with elevator access to the second floor and basement, fully accessible rest rooms, accessible stage in the auditorium and the addition of two restrooms.

Edwards stressed the importance of making the building fully accessible, arguing an American with Disabilities Act lawsuit would be more costly.

“Should this town ever have an ADA suit filed against us, it would cost damages that would be awarded and we’d have to do the project anyway,” Edwards said. “The judge would say, here’s the damages and now you have to do the project under my thumb rather than us doing it voluntarily. The cost of doing nothing is much greater.”

A 3,400-square-foot addition would be built at the rear of the building and a full basement added to provide additional office space, meeting rooms and climate controlled vault for storage of town records.

The addition would make the town hall compliant with accessibility requirements, provide new, protected space for town records, make a restored meeting hall more functional as a performance space, and add new properly-sized meeting rooms, according to the architects.

The town would also receive a 175-seat air-conditioned auditorium.

It would also consolidate town offices. Right now, the town clerk’s and selectmen’s office is in the Center School, while the treasurer/collectors, tax assessor and Planning Board offices are in the Town Hall. The Center School also houses the Whately Historical Society. The town has not determined yet where the historical society would go, but the organization could house some of its records in the town hall.

The addition would be slightly shorter than the original town hall to set it apart. Margo Jones of Jones Whitsett said additions to historic buildings are not supposed to look as if it was built during the same period.

Eighteen parking spaces would be added to the area. Right now, there are about 12 undefined parking spots.

Financing options

The town is considering three different financing options. All options assumed an average home value of $275,000.

The first option is a 20-year level debt service with an interest rate of 3.75 percent. Without CPA money, it would add $1.07 to the tax rate and increase the average tax bill by $294.25. With CPA money, it would add $0.90 to the tax rate and increase the average tax bill by $247.50.

The second option is a 20-year, level principal payment with declining debt payments. The interest rate would be 3.50 percent.

Over the average of 20 years not using CPA, the tax rate would increase $1.03 and the average increase in the tax bill would be $283.25. With CPA, the tax rate would increase 0.87 percent and the average increase in the tax bill would be $239.25.

The third option is a 30-year, level principal payment, declining debt payments with an interest rate of 4.25 percent.

Over the average of 30 years not using CPA, the tax rate would increase by $0.79 and the tax bill would increase $217.25. With CPA, the tax rate would increase $0.64 and the tax bill would increase $176.

To calculate the impact on your own tax bill, multiply the tax rate impact by your home value, divided by 100.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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