PEPPERELL — An earnest look at the site for a new town hall and/or safety complex must wait until after the Spring thaw, but preliminary investigation into building types, heating and project consultants is underway, according to town administrator Robert Hanson.
This week that a wetlands study of town land lying between the Nissitissit School and Brookline Street must be done, he said, to determine the amount of buildable land. He estimates 20 acres on the northern side of the town plot can be used.
The town purchased the former Globe family property more than eight years ago prior to Hanson’s arrival. An approved subdivision was in the planning stages at that time and 18 to 19 houses had been penciled in for the acreage where the new town complex might be located.
The site of Varnum Brook Elementary School (VBES) belongs to the North Middlesex Regional School District (NMRSD) which purchased it for $1. The same holds true for the Nissitissit School. Pepperell owns the Peter Fitzpatrick School (PFS), but it is run by the school district. As a public entity, the district is not required to pay property taxes.
Hanson was given control over $31,425 in special revenue from the sale of the Foster Street fire station at October’s town meeting. He can use it to secure consulting, engineering, surveying, professional services and other expenses incurred by preliminary siting and planning for a new town hall and/or public safety building.
“By spring we will have contracted for the wetlands study,” Hanson said.
The historic Town Hall, with its uninsulated roof and leaky windows is, as Hanson describes it, an oil hog.
Cost, age and inefficient layout are the three strikes against remodeling or expansion of the existing building.
“I had hoped when I came to town we could use the third floor as a meeting hall,” Hanson said. “But it would be prohibitively costly to insulate the roof, add heating and air-conditioning, and the necessary elevator. Where would that go? Electrical service there is still knob and wire.”
No one knew what or where fixes made to the building since 1875 are, Hanson said, which is why any contractor hired for inside work spends a lot of time head scratching. That is, they even agree to do the job.
Years ago plans were drawn to build a solid foundation stop-gap structure, but were never acted upon.
“If we were to add on to the existing building we’re still dealing with a wooden structure that would have to be gutted and that’s very expensive,” Hanson said. “Perhaps $3 million, and the layout would never be very efficient for office space.”
If a new Town Hall is built, he sees the old Town Hall staying in place for historical reasons, but the inside converted into apartments or condominiums.
The same would hold true for the former Shattuck School that now houses the communications center, police and fire headquarters.
Two weeks ago the old school’s unused third floor was finally cleaned of bat droppings and proofed against their entry using money also appropriated from the October town meeting. The area was to have been remodeled in a third phase of renovation planned years ago.
The renovation never progressed to a second phase that would have remodeled and refinished the second story rooms to house fire offices and training rooms. Police, fire and communications remain on the first floor, their offices cramped by space used for wide school hallways and stairs, and with windows that leak heat and cold.
“The chief (police Chief Alan Davis) would certainly like a new safety complex,” Hanson said. “Cost was estimated at $4.5 million, but that was four years ago.”
Davis has since estimated a building cost of $6.5 million.
“There isn’t much space available on the lot for anything other than that building itself,” Hanson said. “There is enough parking for condominium use (however) and that’s perhaps a possibility.”