It's emotion versus logic in Marion Town House decision

Mar 2, 2018

When it comes to deciding on the fate of the Town House, voters agree on one thing: it's a matter of deciding whether they will follow emotion or logic in the voting booth.

The Marion Town House Build Committee presented two options to voters on March 1. The first, renovating the current Town House, would cost $7.9 million dollars, strip the interior of the building down to the studs, bring the building up to code, and remove the meeting annex at the back.

The Building Subcommittee presented another option: building a completely new Town House on the grounds of the Benjamin Cushing Community Center. The proposal would cost a total of $5.1 million, and would entail building two one-story buildings on the front lawn of the Community Center.

Residents expressed a range of concerns and emotions in their comments on both plans.

Resident Steve Kokkins was in favor of constructing a new Town House.  “[A] new building approach...entails preservation of a vital historic building and it will provide much-needed housing for empty nesters who would like to remain in the village," he said.

Bill Washburn disagreed.

"Families that have been here a long time have a lot of history with that building," he said, his voice cracking as he spoke. "Seems a shame to just let it go. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Ron Wisener agreed with Washburn. “I agree with our heritage and our legacy." He said he hoped that a capital campaign by a town organization, such as the Sippican Historical Society, could help ameliorate the difference in project costs.

Peter McCormick said succinctly, “The Town House, like it or not, is the center of Marion. To turn it over to developers would be a huge, irretrievable error.”

Lee Vulgaris noted that, in his eyes, the decision of which project to vote for was more based on "intangible value" than on cost. “All the repairs have to be done to the Town House, no matter which decision we take," he said. "We're looking at a one-story contemporary versus a three-story building that keeps with the town. Cost doesn’t make a lot of difference."

He admitted that he wasn't sure which way he would vote yet, but reiterated that he felt that money shouldn't be the deciding factor in the decision.

Bob Darnton's comments were similar. “It's not so much dollars and sense, I don’t find that decisive. The Town House is important for what goes on inside of it," he said.  If you rip that core out and put it in a building on Route 6, you’re damaging the feel of the village—we get more condos. It's very unfortunate and there is no guarantee that a developer would actually succeed in that task. The building could be an empty shell. Why not keep the life within it and pay the price for a preferable solution?”

Andrew Daniel, a member of Marion's Planning Board, spoke as an individual resident. For Daniel, finances, rather than emotion, were a key deciding factor.

“I don’t have an emotional tie [to the Town House], I’m new here," he said. "I like the location of present Town House, but we’re kicking the can down the road when we talk about the price tag differences. We don’t now where we are with the cost of sewage, that will be more on our taxes. There are more stages of pipe lining, we don’t know what the final cost of that will be. We have other things to look at."

Andrew Santos backed Daniel's viewpoint. His bigger concern, he said, in choosing a new Town House, was how the building works for the people of the community.

"I have a historical preference," he said, "but when we go inside the building, with the modifications, what historically are we preserving? A building’s function is its most important aspect, not how we feel about it. How does it work for the people of its community? The new option allows build a building for a specific purpose.”

Bob LaCrosse noted that emotion should be taken out of the decision-making process altogether. “There's lots of emotion and a lot of resistance to change. It’s a dilapidated old building as far as I’m concerned. How many people actually walk there? I think we need a building that will be one floor. If we get our emotions out of this, we’ll make the right decision.”

Linda Goodwin said she felt torn by the decision altogether. “Logic says go with the new building, but for me, this is saving a home. Shame on us for not taking care of that building.”

The Marion Board of Selectmen has taken the presentations under advisement as they decide how to place the Town House decision on the town's annual Town Meeting agenda.