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M.E. Jones


HARVARD — With the clock ticking toward a Town Hall renovation project start-up date in the spring, municipal offices are set to move out in April.

Selectmen must decide soon where to go, Town Administrator Tim Bragan told the board Tuesday night.

Bragan recently sent out requests for proposals, seeking about 2,200 square feet of office space for the temporary move and covering the 12-month construction period. He now has in hand three replies to the RFP and two actual proposals, he said.

The Appleworks Building on Ayer Road has available space that fits but there are caveats. For example, the $78,000 annual rent is based on a four-day workweek and one night of use, Bragan said.

MassDevelopment’s offer did not attach any such strings. The same office space on the second-floor of 94 Jackson Road, Devens, can be rented for the same time period for $71,000, Bragan said, with no limitations on its use.

The third respondent was the town of Shirley, offering the second-floor of its Town Offices. Located within the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone in the Shirley municipal complex off Front Street on Hospital Road, the building is about 10 years old and stands adjacent to the police station and library and across the road from the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School.

It’s distance from Harvard meets the eight-mile limit set for the move, “as the crow flies,” Bragan said. But Shirley’s offer came without a price tag, which he would negotiate with the other town administrator if the board is interested, he said.

Which led to discussion of the Old Library again. Vacated when the library moved to its new location next to The Bromfield School, the building for the past year or so has been the home of Center on the Common, which provided an arts and cultural venue in the center of town and recently gained its official “501 C-3” nonprofit status, according to the Center’s board of directors.

The Center did not, however, meet the terms of its lease with the town, falling behind on rent and utility bills and letting its insurance policy lapse.

“Not a dream tenant,” Selectman Leo Blair commented when the two directors sat down with the board later in the meeting.

Unable to pay back rent due the town — about $11,000 — or to work out a sustainable business plan to continue operating on site without a substantial subsidy, the directors notified the board by letter that they had decided to end the experiment. It began with the Old Library Pilot Project, and in terms of its reception by residents, was successful, the directors have said.

Now, they are apparently reconsidering that decision. For now, the Center has closed its doors and the town-owned building is vacant again.

The School District has recently expressed interest in moving its administrative offices there, if and when they move out of Bromfield House, which is also a separate story.

Currently, the old library’s “highest best use” would be to house municipal offices during the Town Hall construction, Blair said.

The cost to retrofit the old building’s electrical wiring for the purpose would be $23,000, Bragan said, and a ballpark figure for utilities would be about $10,000 to $14,000 for the year. A cost estimate for a handicap access ramp is still pending.

It has been suggested that the existing set-up might work as is, with access via the basement door that leads into the Hapgood Room, Bragan said. But in terms of ADA compliance, he had no official word on whether it would be acceptable or not.

But as Selectman Lucy Wallace pointed out, the decent to that door is steep and the path rather narrow. Even if it could be done, it probably shouldn’t be, she said. Wallace suggested visiting the Devens site again, since not everyone on this board had seen it.

The selectmen did not vote on the issue Tuesday night but may do so at their next meeting Feb. 3.

Annual costs they are now comparing seem to suggest an obvious conclusion, however.

* Appleworks: $78,000

* Devens: $71,000

* Old Library: $35,000

No matter where they choose to move, the moving cost would be the same, Bragan said: $18,000 each way.