HARVARD -- With their next regular session set for early August, selectmen held a morning meeting on July 2, to update Town Hall renovation plans, which in recent weeks have focused on "1B," the cost-conscious, downsized design they plucked from a "Chinese laundry list" of options the architects offered them earlier this year.

After lengthy discussion, the board voted unanimously to continue in the same direction.

When selectmen took over the Town Hall project from the former building committee last fall, the new direction they pursued from then on was based on Town Meeting votes that approved the original design and funded it at $3.7 million and a later Special Town Meeting vote that rejected a bid for more money to cover increased cost estimates.

Selectmen seemed confident that the revised makeover, which aims to repair the building exterior and stabilize the structure but holds off on some interior reconfiguration included in the earlier plan, could be completed with the remaining nest egg.

But as wrinkles they'd struggled with before were ironed out, a new one was added.

Several weeks ago, Town Administrator Tim Bragan introduced an alternative plan: To move municipal offices out of the old building and set up operations in leased space elsewhere in town, freeing up Town Hall for other community activities.

Positing that it might be more efficient and less costly over time to move out than move around as program and staff needs shift, selectmen authorized him to look into it.


Drawing support among board members and the public, the lease option at this point is more a notion waiting in the wings than a full-fledged scheme. Selectmen agreed that before any action is taken, it must be vetted with plenty of public input. In the meantime, the renovation is still on track.

But Selectman Ron Ricci said he disliked the prospect of asking townspeople for more money again if the lease plan gains ground. He noted there would be little or no project money left over once the renovation is done and that a budget for annual rental and operating costs had not been discussed.

Ricci also questioned the wisdom of sticking with the same architects, LLB, and the owners project manager, DTI. He suggested it might be more prudent at this point to seek out a new team to restart the bid process.

Selectman Lucy Wallace was leery of having that conversation, she said, as it would send a negative message to LLB, which has been working cooperatively with the board and seems committed to the project, changes and all.

Speaking of changes, selectmen debated whether they should hold LLB to a clause in the contract that might indicate the firm is responsible for the added cost of new design documents, which comes to over $200,000. They've asked Town Counsel Mark Lanza for an opinion.

But even if the town has a legal leg to stand on, it could be a losing scenario.

Selectman Leo Blair said he doubted the architects would willingly swallow the whole cost and litigation might ensue, creating hostility versus a healthy working relationship.

Consensus was that if Lanza said the town has a case, the matter should be negotiated with LLB, perhaps resulting in an agreement to split the cost.

The board agreed that Bragan and Finance Director Lorraine Leonard, as chief procurement officer, would sit down with LLB to work out the cost issue before the town inks a new contract with the firm. The current contract expires in September.

Participating remotely via Skype, Chairman Stu Sklar said he'd like a selectman to sit in, too. His colleagues agreed it was a good idea but said the provision didn't have to be included in the motion, which passed unanimously.