HARVARD -- After lengthy discussion, selectmen voted to move forward on the 1B option for renovating Town Hall ... again.

Other than the unanimous nod, there was nothing new, since that was the direction they were already moving in.

They determined at a previous meeting to go with the "1B" renovation option plucked from the architect's second-string proposals, basically, downsized do-overs selectmen asked LLB to provide after Town Meeting refused to add another $1 million to the construction coffers.

But the take-away last time was that the next step before launching full speed ahead would be to get an envelope analysis to see if fixing the "apse" addition was worth including in the project.

Four targeted requests for proposals were sent out but only one firm responded, Chairman Stu Sklar said.

The company offered to do a visual scan of the exterior and interior of the apse and the main building's back walls at the southeast and south west corners for $7,000, looking for leaks and other signs of trouble.

Selectman Ron Ricci remarked it seemed like a steep price tag simply to walk around the building with a pair of binoculars, pointing out problems.

The proposal under review came from a "major firm" with an impressive track record, Selectman Marie Sobalvarro pointed out, but she, too, was uncomfortable with the price.

After more discussion, the board decided to take a more practical track.


Town Administrator Tim Bragan was directed to consult with the building inspector to come up with a local carpenter or contractor who could take an expert, hands-on look for less, say $5,000.

The board voted unanimously for a motion to do so.

Moving out?

At various points in the protracted planning process, selectmen aimed to move operations out of town hall while renovations went on, renting space in the Appleworks Building on Ayer Road. That part of the vision seemed to go away at some point, only to resurface now, for a different reason.

With money for the move, a year's rental is still available in the remaining budget as is Town Administrator Tim Bragan's bold new notion. His idea is to consider long-term rental versus renovation to save money and better fit program needs than the 275-year-old building can do. Town Hall could instead be repurposed for another municipal purpose, such as a community center.

Selectman Lucy Wallace suggested the move should go ahead, if not to that building then someplace else in town.

It would be a trial balloon, giving people a chance to see how they liked having Town Hall someplace else, she said. Meanwhile, the old building would be repaired.

Ricci predicted the money would run out, since they'd be fixing up the building at the same time and they could be stuck after a year, seeking more money from Town Meeting after all.

As consensus waxed toward a "bifurcated" 1B, in which only the exterior would be restored while holding off on the interior reconfiguration, Ricci favored the straightforward plan. That is, asking the architect to draw up a new set of schematic designs based on the 1B option. LLB might already have started and it might not cost that much less anyway, he said.

Selectman Leo Blair agreed. Construction would be another matter and a discussion for another day, he said.

In the end, the board voted for two motions: 1. To move ahead with Option 1B; 2. To authorize Bragan to start the procurement process aimed at finding rental space someplace in town -- about 7,500 square feet if the school administration is interested in sharing the space or 5,500 SF if not. Then meanwhile continuing to reach out to the public and other boards for input.

One member of the public quietly had his say that night. Historic Commission Chairman Ken Swanton, of Fairbank Street, said the HC had already weighed in on the matter.

"We've taken the position that this building should be restored and remain the seat of town government," he said. Plus, personally, he likes the 1B option, he said.