Town Hall move remains undecided pending hearing
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 02:10
Monday night at the Durham Town Council meeting, Town Administrator Todd Selig proposed a new plan to bridge the gap between the original budget and the actual bids for the new town hall project.
This past July, the town purchased property across the street from its current town hall, located on Newmarket Road, with hopes that it could be turned into a new town hall. In short, the town had budgeted $1,333,700 for the renovation of the building, and the bid totaled $1,828,160, a difference of $494,460.
The potential new location, which was formerly a People’s United Bank, would house 14 town employees and would allow the town offices to remain in the historic district, requiring them to keep its brick exterior. The current design also makes the building fully handicap-accessible and LEED certified, a rating system for energy efficiency created by the U.S. Green Building Council.
In an interview last week, Durham Public Works Director Michael Lynch said that these traits are what partially forced the original bid on the building to come in over-budget.
It also took longer than planned to design the project, and in that time the cost of construction increased, Selig said.
Selig said that the approximately $1.8 million bid includes about $280,000 in cutbacks.
“Our feeling was that going beyond that would sacrifice the functionality of the project,” Selig said at the meeting last night.
Some aspects Selig said they were able to cut down on included using product types – like tiles – that were less expensive but still “excellent quality.”
There is also a developer who, if the town hall moves across the street, will be buying the current town hall property and making it a commercial space. The developer of the old building has agreed to increase his purchase price by $100,000 to help move along the transfer to the new building.
In addition, Selig talked about the possibility of using some of the leftover funding from the public library project, as it came in under budget, or potentially using some of the contingency account. The contingency account is supposed to be used for “emergencies” – like providing an amplified police presence in Durham if the Red Sox continue to do well and, say, win the World Series.
Then Selig made his proposal.
“Rather than dealing with library savings and using the contingency account, though, the recommendation is to schedule a public hearing for the next council meeting regarding the $494,460 [shortage] and charge it to the town’s undesignated funds balance,” Selig said.
This would mean that the town would bond the original $1,300,700 it had budgeted, as it had planned. This is essentially like taking out a mortgage on a house, Lynch said. Then the remaining cost of the building, $494,460, would come from the town’s undesignated funds balance.
“It’s like a savings account,” Lynch said. “Like a rainy day account.”
This proposal sparked much discussion. The council decided it needed to thoroughly weigh the costs of moving across the street and renovating versus staying in its current location and renovating.
“If there’s a possibility that maybe we’d be well off staying here … I think it behooves us to take one last look,” Councilor Carden Welsh said, adding that he might like to stay in the current location.
There was talk of putting the newly purchased bank location back on the market. Selig added the possibility that it could become the future home of the Durham Police Station.
Council Chair Jay Gooze considered the difficulty they would then face with selling the current police station. “It isn’t as desirable a building,” he said.
Selig continued to advocate for moving across the street, and said he believes the redevelopment of the current town hall provides the opportunity for this part of Durham to be both useful and beautiful.
“[The developer] would make it clapboard, he would make it brick, he would make it whatever we want,” Selig said. “What you lose by [not moving] is the opportunity to see the redevelopment of both the current town hall and the building on the other side of the road.”
Councilor Kitty Marble said that she knew the original $1.3 million budget would not be enough. She added that the estimated costs of renovating the current building are just as inaccurate as the original budget for the new building.