HARVARD -- Completing the Hildreth House renovations in two phases rather than three could save $15,000 on a $3.7 million project.

Drayton Fair of LLB Architects presented the latest construction figures to the Hildreth House Improvement Committee and Council on Aging on Monday, arguing that the most economical method would be to do the whole project at once.

But the improvement committee looked favorably upon combining Phases 1 and 2, separating them from the final, most expensive phase.

The project would include a parking lot expansion, an indoor lift to the second floor, the extension of a wraparound porch and a vestibule in the back.

John Sayre-Scibona, the owner's project manager for the renovation, said the total cost of the project still stands at the $3.7 million estimated back in September if completed all at once.

Chair Connie Larrabee asked him if he could come back with the total cost of the project if done in two phases.

She also suggested that the extra side parking lot, proposed in Phase 2, be put on hold until a potential building is constructed behind the Hildreth House.

"I never can forget that we are going to get pushback about the site and about how it looks from the people who have complained all along about parking in the front," she said. "So there is something to be said for having it not look all that different."

Committee member Ann Taylor said the idea made sense.

"If you're going to build a structure up here, of course it's going to get beat up because you're going to keep bringing up machinery up here," she said.


But Council on Aging Director Debbie Thompson said there is not enough parking at this time.

"You don't want somebody who really shouldn't be parking down the hill trying to walk up because there was no parking up here," she said.

The group tabled further discussion on the idea until hearing back on final, total costs.

Aside from waiting for the final price tag, the group now needs to decide whether to bring up the proposal for next year's Town Meeting.

But members expressed doubt over whether the plan would gain enough support.

Larrabee said pushing the project for this year would be the most cost-effective thing to do -- the question is whether it's politically possible.

"We all know what's happened with Town Hall and we all know that, whether we like it or not, it's going to be a tough sell to come on now with another building project," she said.

Larrabee said she couldn't even see it getting on the warrant.

Sayre-Scibona said he would come back with figures that show how much the complete project would cost if done in the next three years.

Susan Guswa, co-chair of the Council on Aging's board of directors, said everybody is talking about the "fiasco" over Town Hall.

"The people I talk to say just get going, make some decisions and move," she said. "I hear more people say that so I think maybe we can think positively about that."

Even if the renovation does not make it to the warrant, she said, the group can put their heads together to figure out how to move it along.

Committee member Ann Taylor said the group has to stop looking to Town Hall as an example.

"This is not Town Hall, it's a different thing, it has a different committee managing it," she said. "Let's go forward with it in a positive way and stop saying 'Look at Town Hall.'"

One option could be the plan suggested by Selectman Leo Blair in which a developer looking to build senior housing could purchase the land associated with the Hildreth House from the town. In exchange, the developer would pay for any addition or renovations to the house, which itself would still belong to the town.

In a phone interview, Blair said the plan could pay for the house to be renovated or expanded, as well as generate tax revenue that would help support senior services.

"Having the Hildreth House, which takes up a tiny piece of land, sitting on a much bigger piece of land that will never do anything else is probably not the best plan," he said.

He also argued that it is cheaper to build a new building than to renovate an old one.

"The developer would certainly easily equal, and would exceed the cost of building an addition to the attached Hildreth House," he said. 

The suggestion comes from a 2008 plan that did not come to fruition because the town was developing the Town Center sewer line, he said.

But now, Blair said he believes there is enough excess sewer capacity to maintain a development behind the Hildreth House.

Blair said he and Selectman Lucy Wallace, liaison to the Council on Aging, will eventually meet with the Hildreth House Improvement Committee and COA to discuss the idea. The plan could come before selectmen sometime in September, he said.

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