Selectmen move Bridgton Town Hall project forward

TIRELESS HELPER — Anne Krieg, Bridgton’s Director of Planning, Dconomic and Community Development, passed out copies of Casco Bay Engineering’s proposal to inspect the interior of Town Hall, which has not yet been done. Selectmen agreed to have the firm do the interior analysis, and also voted to put the exterior Phase I work out to bid. (Geraghty Photo)

TIRELESS HELPER — Anne Krieg, Bridgton’s Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, passed out copies of Casco Bay Engineering’s proposal to inspect the interior of Town Hall, which has not yet been done. Selectmen agreed to have the firm do the interior analysis, and also voted to put the exterior Phase I work out to bid.
(Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Believing strongly in the need to “move the process along,” Bridgton Selectmen on Tuesday voted 5–0 to spend up to $11,000 to have Casco Bay Engineering inspect the interior of the Town Hall. At the same time, bids will be sought for Phase I stabilization work on the exterior.

The vote came on the same day a citizen’s petition was filed to force a secret ballot vote this June that would prevent the town from spending any money on repairs until the total cost of both interior and exterior repairs is determined and approved by voters.

Tuesday’s vote followed several weeks of intense debate over whether to keep to the plan approved by voters last June that was sparked when the building’s furnace developed cracks and began releasing carbon dioxide. An insurance claim is being filed, but the full furnace replacement costs of $80,000 were not included in the Phase 1 work — and many residents became concerned about what other hidden problems would reveal themselves once the work gets underway. Voters approved a financing package of $300,000 for Phase I repairs to the exterior, but it will take another $400,000 to complete the work.

As the discussion began, Selectmen quickly rejected a proposal to create an ad-hoc committee to determine total repair costs and make recommendations on repurposing the building. Immediately after that vote, Wastewater Committee Chairman Glen “Bear” Zaidman — who strongly supported further study by an ad-hoc panel — told Selectman Chairman Bernie King he was resigning his committee and walked out of the meeting.

Scope of services

The $11,000 interior building analysis contract with Casco Bay Engineering is in addition to the $32,000 the town has already paid the firm for its exterior analysis study and preparation of bid specs. The scope of services calls for engineer Eric Dube to inspect for evidence of water intrusion that could cause mold to grow in wood framing, duct work, flooring and foundation, and to test for mold, radon and lead. He’ll also conduct a plumbing inspection and hookups to the septic field, and do an electrical inspection of all wiring, sockets and panelboards, and inspect the ceiling and wall covering.

The work is expected to take three weeks, said Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development. Once a report is made, she said townspeople will know the total costs for rehabilitation of Town Hall. With $700,000 already estimated as exterior costs, it is expected that the total rehab project will cost at least $1 million, although Selectman Bob McHatton cautioned against speculating on the total cost until the entire inspection is complete.

Resident Mark Lopez said the inspection should also include an estimate of the scope of work and the cost. But when Selectman Paul Hoyt made a motion to increase the contract amount by $5,000 to include that work, Krieg said it would likely cost much more than $5,000 for Dube to also prepare bid specs for the inside repairs. She said Dube can provide a cost estimate, however.

Resident Corinne Davis opposed paying the engineers another $11,000, saying, “We keep paying more and more costs for engineering, and nothing gets done.”

Selectman Bob McHatton said the board was simply carrying out what voters told them to do, which was to stabilize the building at a minimum level so it can continue to be used for recreation.

But, resident Wendy Bretton said voters last year “might not have realized the depth of repairs” that would be necessary, and to move forward without knowing the total costs would be like “capping a rotten tooth that needs to be pulled.”

Another analogy was used by resident George Szok, who compared stabilizing the exterior of the Town Hall to fixing a car. He said it made no sense to do the bodywork first, “when you have no idea if the engine is worth fixing.”

Selectman Ken Murphy said the town needs to stabilize the building now, and can then think about turning it over to a private concern that could apply for endowment grants not available to the town. Either way, he added, “We need to start a five-year plan to build a rec center,” in recognition of the fact that the building isn’t well suited for continuous recreational use.

Polling townspeople

Lopez said he and three other residents decided to initiate the citizen’s petition because the scope of the work needed to stabilize the Town Hall is clearly much larger than voters were led to believe last year.

“I think the board of selectmen are so far out of touch with what the average townspeople want with that building,” Lopez said. In just four hours, he said, he and the others were able to get 331 signatures on the petition, more than enough to trigger a requirement for a secret ballot referendum.

“I wish selectmen would do the fiscally prudent thing,’ said Lopez. His group also took a nonbinding opinion poll on Saturday as residents visited the Transfer Station, asking them whether they’d rather the town spend $1.2 million to repair the Town Hall or build a new recreational facility.

That poll received 104 total signatures, and all but two of the people who signed favored spending the money on a new recreational facility.

Krieg said that whenever estimating costs for any public infrastructure project, “It’s always a guess until you do the bids.” She said the Phase I work includes a “high contingency,” in part, because of the uncertainty of what conditions will be found “once the siding comes off.” Possibilities include a buildup of mold inside the walls, faulty electrical wiring caused by water intrusion, and evidence of radon, asbestos and lead that would need to be removed.

Resident Jean Preis said the Town Hall was built in 1851 from local timber milled at nearby Stevens Brook. Those same building beams are still in very good shape, engineers have said. “It’s a treasure,” she said, adding, “being able to use a 165-year-old building is one of the things that makes Bridgton special.”

Preis said, “We were going along fine until the furnace failed, and everything ground to a halt.” She said the need for a new furnace “is not a reason for the entire project to be derailed.” Until a crack was found in the furnace several weeks ago, allowing CO2 to leak into the air, “That building was used every day,” she said. Since then, Preis added, some programs haven’t been able to relocate temporarily and “are dead in the water.”

Selectmen have cited the problem of an extended closure of the building as one of the reasons they want the project to move forward now.

Selectmen's view

Editor’s Note: The following guest column was submitted by the Bridgton Board of Selectmen — Chairman Bernie King, Vice Chairman Doug Taft, Bob McHatton, Paul Hoyt and Ken Murphy.

Since the failure of the furnace at the Town Hall brought Phase 1 of the Town Hall project back to center stage, the issue of spending money on the building has again surfaced.

Some folks have returned to the argument of the projected costs of the project, the possible costs of completing the total renovations and the buildings inadequacy in filling the Town’s recreational needs. There are two concerns at play. The first is the desire to preserve an important building in Bridgton’s history and the second is providing an appropriate and adequate building for Bridgton’s varied recreational needs.

At the June 15, 2011 Town Meeting, in response to a nonbinding resolution offering four options for the renovation of the Town Hall, the majority of the voters overwhelmingly chose Option 1: Complete the basic structural maintenance building repairs and roof renovations for similar facility uses. Estimated cost: $400,000.

Heeding the wishes expressed by the vote, the Board of Selectmen commissioned an engineering study based on the wording of the resolution. This became known as Phase 1 of the engineering study. At the June 11, 2014 Town Meeting, an Ordinance initiated by Citizen Petition called for “…no reconstruction, remodeling, rehabilitation, restoration or repairs be made or completed between July I, 20214 and June 30, 2015…” The article failed with 60% voting “no.”

A later article asked for authorization to borrow up to $225,000 for the project with the debt service to be paid from the Moose Pond Trust Fund, which also passed. Community Development Block Grant funds of $100,000 were also approved for the project. With the building stabilized, both a future use plan and a capital improvement plan to address the remaining needs such as interior renovation will be developed.

The Board clearly recognizes that the Town Hall is only a temporary fix to the greater recreational needs of the town. Unfortunately, it is the only town-owned building available to satisfy those needs in the short-term. The proposed repairs will minimally impact current programs as the work, excepting the installation of a new heating unit and new bathroom fixtures, will be primarily exterior.

The Board is actively exploring options to meet the current and future recreational needs of our citizens. The options currently under consideration include partnering with another organization or going forward on our own. We are also exploring funding options including grants.

The Board of Selectmen welcomes your thoughts, concerns and recommendations. Thank you for your time and support as we work together for the betterment of the Town of Bridgton.

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