Residents present 'third Town House option' with petition

Feb 20, 2018

Two Marion residents are attempting to give town voters a "third option" when it comes to the future of the town's ailing Town House.

The Town House has been a bone of contention in recent years; the building is in need of repair, and is expensive to maintain. In past years, mold has been found in the basement of the building, and water infiltration problems have surfaced.

The question for Marion residents is: fix the current building, or tear it down and start again somewhere else?

Two options have already been presented— the first, a complete renovation of Marion's Town House, to the tune of $8 million. Renovations would include a third-floor bump-out, an elevator, and an office for Marion's Town Administrator. It would also tear down the meeting annex at the back of the Town House.

The other option, construction of a new Town House on the grounds of the Benjamin Cushing Community Center, is expected to be less expensive than renovating the current Town House.

According to resident John Waterman, though, a newly-constructed Town House—the plans for which, he said, are currently around 8,000 square feet—could potentially cost around $8 million itself.

Waterman and fellow Marion resident Ted North have come up with another idea, which they say will be cheaper than either a renovation or a completely new building.

Waterman and North's citizen petition, a "Marion Town House Bylaw," will be included on the agenda of Marion's Spring Town Meeting, and could cost taxpayers around $5.4 million overall.

The petition, Waterman explained, calls for a repair of Marion's existing Town House, rather than a complete renovation. It promotes fixing only what is necessary in the building, until such time as Marion's Facilities Manager decides that maintenance has been caught up.

The overall cost, Waterman said, would likely be around $200,000 per year over several years, appropriated from Marion's General Fund. The appropriations would require annual approval from town voters at Town Meeting.

The price tag for repairs is based off of a 2010 study of the Town House, done by Durland & Van Voorhis Architects. In the report, the cost of repairs was estimated at $5.4 million, while the Town House building itself was declared structurally sound.

Waterman acknowledged that since 2010, necessary repairs at the Town House have multiplied, and the final cost attached to the proposed bylaw would be more than $5.4 million. He stated that the price would still likely be far below $8 million.

"I'm a finance man, I worry about how much spending the town is doing," Waterman said. "Whatever we end up doing, I'd prefer to see the cost of it stay around $5 million. We have so many other costs coming our way," he explained. "We have to finance the wastewater treatment plant improvements, and also the village's water, sewer, drainage and paving projects."

Waterman noted that the combined cost of those projects is hovering at $17.5 million. With all the other payments the town will be making, he said, every option for town house renovations should be considered.

Under the petition bylaw, Marion's Facilities Manager would develop a list of priority projects for updating the Town House, as well as estimated costs for annual maintenance building, to cover the next five years. The list would be updated annually.

The list would also be reviewed by Marion's Capital and Finance Committees, who would approve it before sending it to Board of Selectmen, who would then place it on the annual Town Meeting agenda.

If residents fail to approve annual funding appropriations, the bylaw reads, the program will not necessarily be terminated.

Waterman added, "I see this as a compromise between those who love the idea of the historic Town House, and those who would prefer to save costs by building a new Town House."

Ultimately, he added, the choice of which project to pursue is up to voters.

"If they have all the information and they choose to go for a more expensive option, that's what they want. I would just like to have all options available to voters when the decision is made," he said.

More concrete information about the cost of the other two Town House options—renovating the current Town House Building or constructing a new one—will be available at the Town House Building Committee's public hearing, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. on March 1, at Sippican School.