Blueprint Ready, Oak Bluffs Board Seeks Money for Town Hall Plan

By JAMES KINSELLA

An Oak Bluffs town committee is prepared to recommend that taxpayers fund the design of a new town hall. Voters at the April 12 annual town meeting will be asked to approve borrowing $225,000 toward the town hall design. Should the town approve the design, and at a later town meeting approve its construction, the overall cost could come in around $5.4 million.

The new building, whose construction costs would total approximately $4.1 million, would be placed at the existing town hall parcel at the intersection of School street and Pacific avenue. The additional money would cover costs such as razing the existing building, a former school built on the footprint of an older school.

At a meeting Monday afternoon at town hall, members of the renovation committee discussed the need to either replace or renovate the existing town hall.

Committee members also displayed and discussed plans to make the town hall project part of a larger plan to create a town campus in the immediate area. The campus would include the new library, already under construction off Pacific avenue, and also might include a new police station. A number of campus plans show the police station to the north of the existing Catholic parish center on School street.

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Michael Dutton, a selectman who is chairman of the committee, said a study revealed town departments need about 13,000 square feet, up from the 11,000 square feet now provided by the existing town hall.

The town has the option of enlarging the existing building. Further, the building is structurally sound. But Mr. Dutton said mechanical and other systems in the building must be replaced.

The direct cost of renovating and enlarging the structure is $4.2 million, said Stephanie Mashek, a partner in the architectural firm of Amsler, Mashek and MacLean. The firm, which has offices in Oak Bluffs and Boston, has been charged by the town with examining town hall options.

In contrast, the direct cost of building a new structure on the parcel is $4.1 million.

Mr. Dutton said the committee would recommend to voters at the annual town meeting on April 12 that the town build a new structure. Rather than continue to fit existing town departments into a building originally designed as a school, Mr. Dutton said, a new building would allow for a more efficient design that could hold down the need to increase staffing at town hall.

Also, he and Ms. Mashek said the building would allow for a growth of 25 to 50 per cent in staffing before any additions become necessary.

An article on the town meeting warrant calls for the town to borrow $225,000 toward the costs of architectural design, cost estimates and documents related to the construction of a town hall. Mr. Dutton said the renovation committee would use that article as a platform to discuss its recommendation, and to attempt to garner voter support for the new-construction option.

Should voters approve the article, Mr. Dutton said, the committee would return at next year's annual town meeting or at a special town meeting with a complete construction and funding proposal. He said Oak Bluffs property owners likely will have to shoulder the construction costs, although state or federal grants might be available to help with the planning of the new town hall.

Possibilities for developing a town campus at and near the town hall parcel were discussed by Dennis Dale of Waterfield Design Group, a planner and landscape designer serving as a consultant to the Amsler firm. Mr. Dale said many of the town's most important sites are within a mile radius, or a 20-minute walk, of the potential campus site.

Campus plans described by Mr. Dale and Ms. Mashek show parking placed to the east and south of the town hall and library. Green space that could serve as civic space could be created at the southwest corner of the two streets, though another design showed the town hall located much closer to Pacific avenue.

Mr. Dale and Ms. Mashek also said a new police station eventually could be built north of the parish center. The cost of a new station would be just under $4 million. At present, the station is housed in part of the former town hall.

Mr. Dutton cautioned that the town had yet to decide where its police station should be, although he said the town has identified the School street parcel as the site of its town hall.

The overall effect of the campus design proposal is to group town buildings in and near the intersection of the two streets.

"It feels cohesive now," Mr. Dale said of the design. "It's starting to feel like a real campus."

But Mr. Dutton said the town has yet to decide whether it wants to create a campus at the site. Instead, the proposal puts forward several ideas of how such a campus could develop over a period of 10 to 15 years.