HARVARD -- After months of investigation, deliberation and discussion, Selectmen Tuesday night decided on a temporary home for Town Hall during its planned renovation: The Appleworks Building on Ayer Road.
They chose from three finalists that Town Administrator Tim Bragan had explored in detail, one being the old library. The other option was an office building in Devens.
Comparing the three, they settled on Appleworks after considering the options Bragan presented, comparing them in terms of cost and convenience for the public and Town Hall staff, including how much operational square footage was offered at each location, available storage and estimates to retrofit the space, plus rental and moving costs.
Appleworks offers 5,400 square feet of office space, all on the same floor and with parking close to the building for a total cost of $63,600, including $55,000 to rent the place for 18 months, plus another $14,000 estimated for heat and utilities.
The Devens option offers 3,600 square feet for $58,105, heat and utilities included. But it is a bit of a stretch to get there, and although there's more than ample parking, the trek from the parking lot to the building is a drawback. Once in, there are corridors to traverse and an elevator to take to reach the office space MassDevelopment is offering for rent.
All things considered, the Appleworks option is better, selectmen concluded.
As for the old library, moving there would be rent-free, but there would still be renovation costs and other considerations that make it less desirable for the purpose.
For example, to accommodate Town Hall needs, it might be necessary to relocate two current occupants, including the Cable Committee, which has a studio and office space in the basement and the veterans services agent, whose office would likely have to be squeezed into another area of the building.
And there's one more thing.
Bill Johnson pointed out that any investment made in the town-owned building would presumably be for the benefit of town residents, as opposed to spending taxpayer money on rental and temporary renovations elsewhere. Some of the items on the to-do list, such as removing an underground oil tank and perhaps switching to gas heat in the process, would need to be done anyway, he said. But he also noted that the value of the investment would hinge on continued use of the building, which is where the rub lies.
If Town Hall moves in, bumping the current lessee, Center on the Common, there's no guarantee that the nonprofit would stick around and wait for 18 months to move back in. If not, an opportunity will have been lost that might not come again, selectmen agreed.
It's a plan, solving a key piece of the puzzle the board has been wrestling with for some time. But they're not there yet. The next big milestone to launching the project is to obtain a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Selectman Tim Clark, who is liaison to the other board, said the ZBA would take up the application later in the week.