Momentum building to rethink Town Hall project

WRONG GRADE — Eric Dube of Casco Bay Engineering pointed out during a tour of Town Hall on Thursday how the improper grade of the parking lot has, over time, caused major water intrusion to the foundation and walls. (Geraghty Photo)

WRONG GRADE — Eric Dube of Casco Bay Engineering pointed out during a tour of Town Hall on Thursday how the improper grade of the parking lot has, over time, caused major water intrusion to the foundation and walls.
(Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Momentum is building in Bridgton to rethink the entirety of the Town Hall project in the wake of the recent furnace malfunction. At a Thursday workshop and again on Tuesday, residents strongly questioned the wisdom of sinking up to $1 million into a building that is primarily used for recreation, yet doesn’t serve its needs.

The $300,000 in Phase 1 work, approved by voters and poised to begin, focuses on stabilizing the exterior of the century-old building on North High Street, including the rear parking lot, to fix existing water damage caused by improper drainage. It doesn’t cover a furnace replacement, now estimated to cost $70,000.

Although the project’s scope was laid out specifically when voters approved funding last June, some residents now believe that approach is flawed because it didn’t address interior repairs and upgrades needed to make the building more functional for recreation. Residents like Mike Tarantino, Chuck Renneker and Mark Lopez, all members of the Community Development Committee, are urging Bridgton Selectmen to step back and appoint a building committee of local construction experts who can study the issues and give a better picture of what the total project would cost.

Town Hall tour

Prior to Thursday’s workshop, Eric Dube of Casco Bay Engineering led a tour of Town Hall with around 20 residents, town officials and selectmen. The cracked furnace, which had been leaking CO2, had been patched enough to be restarted, so there was heat inside as the group gathered in the gym.

Dube said it didn’t make sense to repair the 20-year-old furnace, which he had hoped would last another five years. He is now recommending a new ventilation system and installation of a propane heating system, which he said is more expensive to run but is cleaner and more efficient. The town has spent $13,000 this winter on oil to heat Town Hall, which is less than the $22,000 spent the year before.

Dube talked of all the exterior needs covered in Phase 1 — replacing a beam to fix a dip in the gym floor; repairing sill rot on both sides, especially the side doors, caused by water intrusion; installing a vapor barrier under the floor; insulating the attic to prevent recurring ice dams and installing storm windows over the existing windows, which are expensive to replace; and replacing bathroom fixtures. Behind Town Hall, the parking lot would be regraded and a catch basin installed to act as a trough to capture most of the water before it reaches the building.

“Water damage is a major issue,” and was considered the building’s most pressing, immediate need, Dube said. “We’re not talking any interior renovations.” But now with the need for replacement heating eating up a third of the Phase 1 budget, “That certainly changes the dynamics of the project,” he said.

Back at the Bridgton Municipal Complex, the sit-down portion of the workshop began. Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, passed out discussion materials that included a three-page “Questions and Comparisons” memo Krieg prepared to point out the advantages and disadvantages of fixing the existing Town Hall versus new construction. Krieg said that although voters favored keeping Town Hall and making basic repairs, “given the new information and recent events, does this situation need to be further questioned to them?”

Krieg said that Casco was able to build a new 6,800-square-foot Community Center for $500,000 five years ago, a facility larger than the 5,500-square-foot Town Hall. She said it was likely that in Bridgton’s case, “a new building at the same site would cost less than the planned exterior renovations.” She pointed out that new problems have arisen this winter at Town Hall, such as water seen coming out of electrical sockets, new dead spots in the gym floor, and more falling ceiling tiles, all of which “places the building as a possible unsafe building for occupancy.” It’s possible that there is also mold in the walls, and the need for asbestos removal, although neither issue has been investigated.

Of course, Krieg added, there’d be a significant delay if a new building were built, but she said the furnace problem has delayed the project already.

Selectman Chairman Bernie King, at both the workshop and again on Tuesday, said every resident who has called him about Town Hall has urged him not to tear it down, …“even when I told them about the costs.” He said the issue before the board is how to finance the project, and not to rethink it.

The clock is ticking on financing, said Krieg. Cumberland County Community Development needs to know by April 10 just how the town plans to spend this year’s set-aside funding, and existing Community Development Block Grant funding needs to be spent as soon as possible.

Lopez told selectmen, “You can’t even begin to quantify what the total costs would be,” so the town could be “opening up a giant money pit here.” Instead of asking voters for a set amount of money, hoping it will cover what’s needed, the better approach would be to “do it like the private sector would” and get firm quotes and proposals first, and only then ask voters for the money to pay for it.

But, such an approach would greatly delay the work on a project that “we’ve been talking about since 2011,” said Jean Preis, an ardent supporter of restoring the building.

Glen “Bear” Zaidman said recent developments have made it clear that the board “needs a committee to help steer you.”

No decisions were made at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, in large part due to the absence of two members, Doug Taft and Bob McHatton.

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