HARVARD — If you tallied the score, the restoration of Harvard’s Town Hall is at the top of the heap.
The Capital Planning and Investment Committee met last Friday. Four of the five members ranked the existing Town Hall repair and restoration (but not expansion) project at the top of their priority list. Selectman Peter Warren ranked the Town Hall work on par with the restoration of the Hildreth House for a Council on Aging center.
Blending together the five committee members’ rankings, the Town Hall rehab, without the addition, scored highest with 88 points. The renovation of the Old Hapgood Library for a Council on Aging center ranked second with 57 points. The renovation of the Hildreth House for a Council on Aging center ranked third with 50 points.
By the widest margin, Chairman George McKenna gave Town Hall work first priority, but wants work to stick to the present Town Hall footprint. He disagrees with recommendation of the Municipal Building Committee for an added two-story wing off the rear of Town Hall.
“Town Hall has more than enough space if we just change behavior,” McKenna said. He suggested off-site record storage to free up space for the creation of one or two more meeting rooms.
McKenna said census figures show that Harvard has grown by 145-150 new residents over the past decade, “so in terms of long-term growth, it’s very adequate to meet our meeting needs.”
The majority ranked the Hildreth House fix last. Though he called it “our crown jewel,” McKenna suggested the property could be used to leverage the private development of senior housing off the back of the building, what he called a “carrot” in return for the total overhaul of the historic home.
“This is done elsewhere. This is how they play the game,” said McKenna. “You want to build? I see that as the checkmate in the repositioning of buildings.”
There was a discernable split in where the Council on Aging should reside at the Saturday, Feb. 5, Quad Board meeting (comprised of the selectmen, school, finance and capital planning committees). Some want it at the Old Hapgood Library, while others see it remaining at the Hildreth House.
The Capital Committee set out to rank the difference between the two buildings as far as overall impact on the town’s financial outlook using a set of objective criteria. The design-scheme costs for the two projects as estimated by the Municipal Building Committee call for a slightly more expensive full build out of the Old Library ($2.47 million) than a full build out and expansion of the Hildreth House ($2.34 million). Still, there was concern that increasing floor space in town would increase long-term carrying costs.
The sole minority view on this point was voiced by Peter Warren, who ranked the Hildreth House project as high as Town Hall, but left the Old Hapgood Library fix in the dust in terms of housing the Council on Aging. “I deliberately knocked it down,” in his scoring matrix, said Warren.
“I’ve been to multiple meetings regarding the location of a senior center. As far as need goes, the need to go to the Old Library is very low… I’m just not in favor of that whole thing,” said Warren. “I feel the Capital Committee is wrong.”
Warren said that seniors fled to Ayer’s public library before Harvard’s new library was built, citing parking problems on Fairbanks Street. Warren said seniors have “loudly stated that they do not want to go to the old library.”
“I challenge you on that,” retorted McKenna, pressing Warren for the source of his statistical data on a senior citizen consensus.’
“I’m one of them,” answered Warren.
“I’m not sure what survey you did when you make a statement that seniors don’t want to go there,” said McKenna.
The two debated over the average number of participants at Municipal Building Committee meetings over the past year. Warren said 100. McKenna asked how many were over the age of 60. Warren answered, “A large amount.”
Committee member Cindy Russo said “I honestly don’t know how people feel,” to which Warren replied, “too bad you didn’t attend the five forums.” Russo said she knows that the forum attendees were not representative of Harvard’s entire senior population. “It just wasn’t.”
McKenna suggested the Municipal Building Committee survey seniors to determine a preference as to where the Council on Aging is housed. Russo agreed.
If there was a groundswell of support for the Council of Aging to remain at the Hildreth House, Russo said: “That would be different. I think I’d have to listen.” She added, “I’m married to a senior citizen. They count. Everybody counts.”
Towards that end, Russo echoed the overwhelming sentiment expressed at the Feb. 5 Quad Board meeting: Put it to the voters to decide. “That’s what I thought we’d decided on Saturday. I was amazed at the degree of agreement in the room and I don’t think we should un-agree so quickly.”
Russo suggested including an estimated $2.3 million “placeholder” in the Fiscal Year 2013 capital plan for the creation of a Council on Aging center in 2015 without tying the project to any one specific location. The committee agreed unanimously.
Committee member Keith Cheveralls said he opposes building new space but rather prefers to “refurbish what we have.” To the members of the Municipal Building Committee seated in the audience, Cheveralls said their total $8.8 million, three-building recommendation is “too big a proposal. You’re going to have a real fight on your hands.”
That morning, the Municipal Building Committee proposed a warrant article for the April 2 Annual Town Meeting seeking $225,000 for the initial plan and design work for the refurbishing and expansion of Hildreth House and the refurbishing of Town Hall, which would take into account potential future expansion of the government seat.
Russo said she understood the Municipal Building Committee’s passion, “They’re for something and they have every right to be for it.” But the Capital Planning Investment Committee unanimously agreed to Russo’s motion to recommend $185,000 in debt exclusion for the coming Fiscal Year 2012 for Town Hall and an undetermined locale for the Council on Aging.
As for work to rehab Town Hall, the Capital Planning and Investment Committee unanimously agreed to place in their 2013 plan the amount of $2.26 million for essentially Phase 1 of the three-phase plan for Town Hall, one of three Town Hall alternative scenarios put forth by the Municipal Building Committee. Phase 1 includes basic baseline fixes to Town Hall, meaning largely deferred maintenance and code compliance issues.
Late last week, it was announced that a public forum, hosted by the Municipal Building Committee, was to be held last night, Thursday, Feb. 17 at Volunteers Hall in the New Library to explain the various building project details. The Municipal Building Committee’s full final report to the selectmen can be accessed via a link on the homepage for the town’s website at www.harvard.ma.us.