Should Marion really take a time-out?
To the Editor:
A recent document prepared by John Waterman “Maybe the Town Needs to Take a Time Out?” requires careful consideration and also a response from those who have issues with its recommendations.
Issue One: Objectivity (and A Little History)
The Town House Building Committee, in 2014, started out divided on restoring the Town House or building new. After an excruciating four-year feasibility study that explored over 12 options including a new building on an unnamed site, we settled on a $12.6 million total building renovation. We give credit to John Waterman, Alan Minard, Rob Lane, Ted North and others who expressed to us and the Select Board that this was too expensive.
We listened carefully to all comments (we were not pushed). The Select Board informed us we had to try harder. We tightened the space program and cut the project almost in half resulting in nearly $5M in savings while keeping the most important features of the project. When the VFW land became available we (with direction from the Select Board) put out an RFP for architects to design and price a new building on that land.
We were challenged that we were not objective enough to pursue such a study so we handed over our warrant article to a new subcommittee. They did an admirable job producing a feasibility study for a new building on VFW land in short order offering a $2.8 million in savings. Our committee carefully reviewed both and decided the savings did not offset what would be lost, namely:
- Risk of losing an historic treasure
- Dramatically reduced archival storage
- Loss of the center of town government from the heart of our village and degradation of the active life of that village.
- Taking on the burden of marketing the Town House to a developer, subdividing and rezoning the towns land and facing the compromises a for-profit entity would demand. (e.g. Fairhaven schools)
I say all this to demonstrate the Town House Committee’s professionalism and objectivity. Yes, we are passionate but it is a carefully considered passion borne of detailed study by experts in construction and engineering and in the overwhelming evidence supporting our position.
Issue two: Voters Right to Choose
We are not able to comment on the Select Board’s actions but will say that a very important and well attended public forum was organized by the Select Board on March 1, 2018 where both options were presented. The stated goal of the meeting was to allow the Select Board to review both plans and elicit public comment. The mood in the room and the comments expressed were measurably in favor of renovation.
Issue Three: Money and Debt
Of course it’s about money but it’s not only about money. It’s surprising to read many opinions that focus only on the financial aspects but never mention any of the quality of life issues of this decision. We are all the wiser for detailed financial analysis provided by John and Ted and the Town Finance Director but there is so much more to this. Those of us who live here came for those intangibles, the small town ambiance, the history, the unique village, the quiet life by the sea. No one wants to pay more taxes but we should be willing to contribute a bit more to keep that quality of life we enjoy. This may end up being a fight for the soul of our town and I hope all realize that.
Issue Four: Pay As We Go
Article 36 is an attempt to avoid debt and use general funds over time to repair the building. Unfortunately that is too little too late. It would have been a great plan in the 1980s but with 40 years of neglect and a dramatically evolved regulatory environment we are nearing crisis mode. The risks we are exposed to now are:
- A catastrophic failure of an essential system ( e.g. boiler; e.g. Natural History Museum ceiling)
- A lawsuit from an injured employee or citizen (lots of hazmat issues)
- An action by advocates for the disabled.
- There is no easy funding stream for this initiative other than taking the funds away from school, police, etc.
Many of the essential repairs are larger, in 2019 dollars, than can be done in small increments:
- HVAC: $1.4 million
- Elevator and ramps: $1.1 million
- New electric system: $572,000
In addition we might lose out on the substantial short and long term savings of removing the annex. There are lots of unknowns as this initiative requires yet another study which has not been done to date.
Issue Five: Time Out?
The first RFP for Town House renovation was sent out in 2009. Nine years of public hearings and expert consultant studies is, we feel, enough. Delaying is standard corporate obfuscation to avoid making a tough decision. “Go do some more research and get back to us," and “Let’s look at another option,” are instructions I often heard in corporate life when a tough decision loomed or sometimes when the ulterior motive was to kill the project without saying that. Its only human nature to want to put off tough decisions but it is no longer acceptable or responsible to kick the can down the road.
Bob Raymond, AIA
Chair, Town House Building Committee