HARVARD — The new Hildreth House Improvement Committee should be ready to report to Town Meeting next year, but not with a funding request, selectmen said Tuesday night.
First, the HHIC needs to come together. There are no members yet.
The selectmen have a charge for the new group and have decided to seat seven members.
Skills sets should include civil engineering, building, municipal finance and fundraising, selectmen said, with liaisons from other boards, such as the Energy Advisory and Capital Planning and Investment committees and the CPC, which oversees Community Preservation Act funds and recommends projects for funding.
Council on Aging Chairman Connie Larrabee favored having a COA member on the HHIC. “It feels to me there should be at least one representative,” she said, “but we need to hear from other people.”
Selectmen Chairman Lucy Wallace agreed. “If it turns out that two COA members” are among the seven, that’s fine, too.
Selectman Bill Johnson said HHIC membership should reflect a broad, cross-town constituency, providing input from different age groups.
The selectmen were pretty much on the same page about the $5.5 million vision LLB architects came up with and presented at public forums, with a two-story addition and an extensive landscaping makeover. It looks great on paper and has all the right stuff for a gem of a senior center, but it may be over the top.
“I’m not sure the schematic design we have now won’t need revision,” Selectman Tim Clark said.
Wallace turned to Larrabee, who said the COA does not envision any grand plan, per se. “What we hope for is some path forward,” she said. “We don’t kid ourselves it will be an easy sell.” But they don’t want take a “half-baked plan” to Town Meeting, either.
The Friends of the COA are in the very early stages of launching a fundraising effort for a revamped senior center that will tie in needed building repairs and updates. She anticipates the process may take about three years. But they must have a specific target to aim for.
“There’s interest in contributing, but we need a goal,” she said.
At the 2011 annual Town Meeting, the Municipal Building Committee spent a lot of money to come up with reuse proposals, including a schematic design plan for Hildreth House that included expansion and site work, in the end presenting a design for a $5.5 million project.
Nobody at the table felt that would fly; it’s simply too much money, they agreed. Johnson said there needs to be a cost envelope this time around and the project must come closer to the town’s expectations.
Clark called it a reality check. No matter what features and fixtures were in the design, the $5.5 million price tag was sure to cause sticker shock, he said.
“If there’s a consensus among this group that it’s not affordable, we could ask the public” if they want a re-do, Clark said. In practical terms, that means determining the desired and necessary level of services and what it will cost to provide them.
“I think I understand where this plan came from,” Larrabee said. But nobody on the COA thinks a $5.5 million renovation/addition plan will fly.
To begin with, the HHIC must hash out what items are needed to bring the building up to code, she said. Also, the service water line has gone up significantly since the Bowers Brook senior housing complex came online.
Clark said that’s just the point. Unlike Town Hall, which has a clearly defined and fairly constant set of functions, the senior center and the COA have changed a lot over the last decade, he said. He said the question then becomes, “What’s the future need.”
“I think we should go to the 2013 Town Meeting with a report and a recommendation,” but not a funding request, Sobalvarro said.
Larrabee agreed. “If people don’t want it, they don’t,” she said.
Meanwhile, the HHIC must begin its work. Applications to serve on the committee may be submitted to the selectmen’s office.