First constructed as a school building in 1938 and expanded in the 1960s to accommodate the demands of democracy, the Oak Bluffs town hall will begin its third life Tuesday when it reopens to the public.

The building has undergone major renovations in the last 16 months, the result of a years-long effort to build a new town hall in Oak Bluffs. The $13.3 million project toiled through multiple iterations, unable to gain public favor until plans for the building were completely overhauled and approved at annual town meeting in 2020.

The project broke ground in November 2020.

Renovations feature a third floor and an open floor plan with numerous windows offering sight-lines throughout the building. Looking up from the foyer, the original wooden roof structure remains in place, informing the wood-accented staircases and handrails.

“We’re very grateful that this has happened,” assistant town administrator Wendy Brough said during a tour of the renovated building last week. “Something like this takes years to do... it’s really quite an achievement.”

Asst. town administrator Wendy Brough led a tour of the town hall last week. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Ned Collier of Icon Architecture said a major factor of the design was looking at the life of the building, beginning as a school and becoming a place of civic engagement.

“We love the idea of a town hall as the people’s house,” he said.

Mr. Collier said the design focuses on making the town’s services easily accessible to the community. The town hall interior highlights its various departments with large signs and open sight-lines. That transparency, he said, was a major part of the renovation.

“There were definitely some higher concepts aimed at the architecture of democracy,” he said.

The renovated town hall also features a number of auxiliary meeting rooms and offices, and ample storage space. In its basement sit the archives, a welcome space for town employees, Ms. Brough said, after spending more than a year cooped up with countless documents in nearby trailers as renovations were underway.

“We’re not going to run out of space if we expand our services at all,”she said.

Building features an open floor plan with numerous windows and sight-lines. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The building is largely naturally lit, with windows placed generously throughout its walls and ceiling. Its portico features screens that control sun exposure in the mornings and evenings, and it includes overhangs and canopies to further control natural light.

“Calibrated to keep the sun out when it’s hot and let it in when it’s not,” Mr. Collier said.

Much of that control over natural light is thanks to the building’s original wooden structure, Mr. Collier said, making it easy to bring a number of large windows into the town hall.

“That’s all a result of the existing structure,” he said. “We were able to kind of fill in the windows in the structure.”

The abundance of natural light in the building fits in directly with the renovation’s focus on energy conservation. The renovation was completed using passive house construction, a building technique that prioritizes energy efficiency with HVAC systems, insulation and the use of natural light.

“So you get a kind of overall reduction of energy usage,” Mr. Collier said.

There will be a grand opening reception at a later time. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The building is highly heat efficient, with a continuously insulated interior. Everywhere except for its foundation and basement where the archives are located, the building is heavily insulated. Even its windows, which Mr. Collier said are typically a weak point for insulation, are designed for temperature control.

The result is a building that stays warm in the cold and keeps cool in the heat, all while using as little energy as possible, Mr. Collier said.

“It’s a bit like if you think of a building being constructed like a thermostat,” he explained.

The renovated town hall is also all-electric, and its roof features panels designed to accommodate solar energy should the town decide to install solar panels. If those panels are installed, they could bring the building to net-zero emissions, Mr. Collier said.

“That’s pegged for the future,” Ms. Brough said.

Oak Bluffs is planning an open house for the new town hall sometime in the near future, after the space is properly decorated, and some checklist items including Plexiglas and light pole installation are completed.

For now, Ms. Brough said the town is focused on getting settled in, and transporting its 200 large moving boxes where they need to be.

“Everybody’s really excited to come into this space,” Ms. Brough said.