HARVARD — As the vote to fund an additional $1.1 million for the Town Hall renovation project failed at Town Meeting on Oct. 16, the Council on Aging is having concerns that the Hildreth House project may have a similar response if they bring it to spring Town Meeting in April 2014.
Hildreth House Improvement Committee member Connie Larrabee asked the COA how they feel about the timing of proposing the Hildreth House renovation in the midst of the Town Hall project being revisited.
The Town Hall project will be on the ballot for the Nov. 5 special election, and if it passes, it may go to Town Meeting again for another vote.
“I would just like to ask how the COA feels about the Town Hall vote at Town Meeting in terms of what it means for Hildreth House,” Larrabee asked.
“I don’t know if spending money is the major factor, or if people are criticizing the process, or maybe the delay for town hall,” COA member Carlene Phillips said of the rejection of Town Hall funding.
“I think there are people that asked ‘how could it have gone up that much,'” COA member Fran Nickerson said.
Since 2012, the construction costs for Town Hall have gone up significantly due to the improving economy. The estimated cost in April 2012 was $3.9 million and an additional $1.1 was requested in order to complete the project.
Members of the council fear a similar rejection of the Hildreth House renovation if they were to bring it up while Town Hall is being ironed out.
“We better make darn sure that we have all of the estimates so we don’t have the same problem because if that’s the case we’re not going to make it,” Nickerson said.
“It’s not really possible for us to get a nailed-down-figure yet, but I think we need to think about this,” Larrabee said. “We might recommend saying ‘yes, this is the plan, but not this year.'”
Renovations to Hildreth House include improved parking, outdoor lighting and wheelchair access to the second floor.
“I think all of us need to be on the same page and determine what is needed, what’s the plan, what’s the strategy and how are we going to get there,” COA Co-Chair Susan Guswa said. “For myself, I am very supportive of getting this project done. When that’s going to be, I don’t know.”
“I’ve personally always felt that Town Hall should be done first,” Larrabee said.
“Obviously (Hildreth House) needs to be done,” COA member Katie Petrossi said. “In an ideal world, we would have the money for Town Hall, but I think we don’t want to wait too long because there are other groups and other organizations (that may have other projects). I would request that we are next in line after Town Hall.”
“I do think it’s very sad that we have a senior center that is not handicap-accessible,” COA member Suzanne Roberts said. “What kind of senior center does not account for handicap-accessibility? I think the parking and lighting outside and some kind of access to second floor are very important.”
“I am not in favor of waiting for Town Hall to be resolved, quite frankly,” Nickerson said. “I think there are people out there that would support Hildreth House before they would Town Hall.”
“I think we ought to go ahead,” COA member Henry Fitek said. “I value this building more than I do Town Hall. I’ve seen much more senior centers that are functional, and this is not.”
“I would not be in favor of asking for the money at this Town Meeting, but asking for final design plans and launching a strong fundraising plan, which Town Hall hasn’t done,” Phillips said. “I think that’s a direction we could go in to make it different. I think while Town Hall is happening, we do those things because I think to drop out right now would be a huge mistake.”
Phillips proposed that after the next Town Meeting, the HHIC launch and present the design plan and begin fundraising for the renovation.
“I agree,” Guswa said, “but I think our board needs to have a firm strategy of how we are going to launch the fundraising. Who’s on the committee, what committees are involved, who’s going to look into institutional funding? We as a board need to know who’s heading up that committee … I don’t think we should step forward until we know exactly what we’re doing.”
“I’m in favor of going for the design and launching the fundraising,” COA Co-Chair Pamela Frederick said. “I would also like to see the COA board really helping to build the fundraising committee. I also think it’s important to find ways to get into the community to educate them on what we do here.”
COA director Debbie Thompson said, “I’m not a taxpayer in town, but based on what I hear, I agree that (we should propose Hildreth House plans) maybe not once all the work has been done on Town Hall, but once its approved,” she said. “We’ve already had one person fall down the stairs. That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet.”
“I want this to be successful, as we all do, so we need to get ourselves organized,” Guswa said.