Save millions while preserving Marion's Town House

Apr 29

To the Editor:

With the passage of Article 36, the Marion Town House (TH) will continue to stand as a village focal point after its new paint job. The legacy of Elizabeth Taber is preserved. The Town House's architectural heritage is retained in keeping with the Town’s historic character. Its use for the Town’s administrative offices is continued uninterrupted.

Town Meeting Warrant Article 36, the “Marion Town House Preservation Bylaw a Continuous Repair and Maintenance Program,” is an alternative to the Town House Buildings Committee’s (THC) $14 million Article 14 “Gut and Renovate” proposal for voters to consider at Town Meeting.

The objective of this bylaw is to preserve and prolong the useful life of the Town House, while keeping the cost very affordable for a small town such as Marion. It is proposed as a bylaw, so that the Town will be legally obligated to follow through on this “preserve and repair” approach.

This bylaw creates a town obligation to preserve, repair and maintain the TH on a “pay as you go” basis. The program is funded through a line item to be included in the general fund budget to be approved annually at Town Meeting. The program is flexible and does not lock taxpayers into a long-term debt commitment. It also may qualify for Community Development funds.

The program will be managed by the town's facilities manager, who will be required to develop and maintain a project list to be completed on a rolling five-year basis. The projects must be reviewed by the Capital Improvements and Finance Committees with recommendations then made to the Board of Selectmen. The program will continue until amended, modified or discontinued by Town Meeting vote.

The $100,000 allocation for the facilities manager’s budget is for use in developing a Town House triage needs list and developing the five-year program. Modest funding is included for immediate “fix it” needs while the staff work is being completed for developing the required prioritized expenditures list and forecast. All additional future spending must be approved by Town Meeting.

All the Town House needs is some TLC. It does not need a monstrous renovation to a three-story office building including a third-floor executive suite with elevator and large meeting rooms for a town already awash with available meeting space.

Article 36 saves the Town millions. The Town House Building Committee's forecasted project cost is $7,957,269 for the Article 14 "Gut and Renovate" Option. The interest cost calculated by the Town’s financial advisors for the related debt financing based on a 30-year, 5% coupon bonds is projected to be $5,372,504.

Add to this amount the $654,000 of Town Meeting authorizations for consulting and design work since the beginning of this project in 2009 and the resulting total projected project reaches $13,983,773. Cost overruns, and costs associated with construction and structural issues discovered during such a renovation, particularly under the public procurement rules, will drive the cost still higher after all the bills are paid.

With the Article 36 Preserve and Repair approach, no long-term debt is required. The $5,372,504 interest savings alone will pay for a considerable number of improvements, repairs and maintenance for the Town House, such as a new roof, new siding, new windows, along with the new boiler. The interior can be updated in sections over time.

An additional benefit of Article 36 is that administrative business will go on as usual without the major disruption and cost of relocating the Town House staff to temporary trailers.

An annual repair and maintenance program for the Town House is the best way to go. Probably there will be money available to fix the lawn for the proposed Elizabeth Taber statue, to be donated to the Town and funded by private money. Most importantly, the Town will not be burdened by a long-term debt obligation lasting for generations.


Ted North, Marion