Marion voters deny $7.9 million Town House renovation

May 15, 2018

It may be back to the drawing board for renovation of Marion's Town House, after voters denied the $7.9M renovation 214-120 during the first night of Marion's annual Town Meeting on May 14.

The Town House agenda item, had it been approved, would've seen $7.9M used to a gut and reconstruct the interior of the nineteenth-century Town House. Part of the item also asked voters to approve $860,000 in Community Preservation funds to help lower the overall cost of construction.

The debate over the Town House has been conducted actively on social media; the same was true at Town Meeting. While most residents who spoke said that they preferred the idea of renovating the current Town House, the cost of doing so concerned them. Other residents expressed unhappiness with the Board of Selectmen for not putting an alternative building option—a $5.1M new Town House on the grounds of the Benjamin D. Cushing Community Center—on the Town Meeting agenda.

Former Town Moderator David Titus was one such resident. "I was shocked to learn that the selectmen had voted to not offer the warrant offering the alternative article proposing a new Town House building. I found that arrogant and underhanded," he said.

He added, of a proposal to turn the current Town House into condominiums, "Condos are not a bad thing...we could use more of them. There are a lot of people my age looking to downsize but there is not much available. The other options have been ignored."

Resident Dana Anderson disagreed. “Renovation now is the right decision," she said. "The price tag for this renovation is all-inclusive and there is a generous contingency included to cover unexpected expenses. I don’t want to sell the Town House to a developer, and let it sit and further deteriorate. Yes, we’re making an investment, but the soul of our town is at stake and I think it is worth it.”

Dale Jones agreed with Anderson. "The Town House cannot be fixed piecemeal," he said. "The time to repair the Town House is now, I know we can do it responsibly, and we have to bite the bullet and do it all at once."

Residents Ray Cullum and Alan Minard said that although they liked the idea of renovating the Town House, the cost of doing so was a decisive factor in their ultimate non-support of the renovation.

"Wastewater, that’s the number one priority," Cullum said, "and we have future costs coming in on that, at least another $7-8M, probably $20M over time...I don’t have to tell you about our roads. They’re pitiful. We’re not setting our priorities in the order that they should be attacked. I’m not personally against the Town House, but we already have a ton of money to spend. We need to take fiscal responsibility and set the priorities because we’re all going to pay.”

Minard said that no action was necessarily required on the Town House at that very moment. "We rank seventh in debt per capita in the Commonwealth," he explained. "We don’t even know how much debt there will be, that’s the problem. We don’t have to do something now. Yes, the building needs maintenance but it won’t fall down, previous analysis says that the building is very solid.”

Resident Maryann Hayes requested that the vote on the Town House be done by paper ballot. "This is an emotional issue," she said, "and I know some people would feel pressure to vote one way or another if others could see them."

Her motion was upheld, and paper ballots were passed out.

When the final ballot count was read out, there were 120 "yes" votes to 214 "no" votes, and the renovation was formally denied.