NEWFANE—The voters of Newfane have three choices for what to do about the Town Office building: put an addition onto the existing structure, sell it and construct a new one next door, or continue to pour money into a leaky, drafty building.
But something must be done. This was the message conveyed to the 30 or so attendees at the first public hearing on what to do about the Town Offices.
Members of the Selectboard, town officials, and David Cotton and Robin Sweetapple from the architectural firm Cotton Design presented details and schematics on the options and fielded questions from townspeople at the May 4 public hearing at the NewBrook Fire Station.
Town officials have dealt with the building’s many issues piecemeal, but structural deficiencies remain, the presenters told attendees that night.
The building offers no privacy, the heating system is inadequate, and the roof is damaged — the ceiling leaked onto Selectboard member Mike Fitzpatrick’s head during a Board meeting last year. The siding needs work, the building isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilites Act (ADA) codes, and there are mechanical and electrical issues.
Board member Gary Delius said a group began working on what to do about the Town Offices in 2012, but was mostly focused on stopping the roof from leaking.
In November 2015, a full working committee was formed to address the building, Delius said.
This led to the Selectboard hiring Cotton Design to conduct a study and draw up plans.
Sweetapple shared some of her findings from the study of the current Town Office building. She said the leaky roof is not the roof’s fault. The sheathing beneath it is rippled; thus, its structural integrity is compromised and a new roof is needed.
She told attendees something the building’s employees already know: “the heat is wonky, it doesn’t do what it needs to do.” The forced hot air furnace is adequate, but disbursement is the problem.
According to a plumber she worked with, the best way to fix this is to extend the duct-work toward the exterior walls where the staff sits.
Should the town perform any work on the building, Sweetapple said, ADA compliance must be met. Although there are grab bars in the bathrooms, they — and the ramp leading to the building — are not up to current code.
She also noted the vault is running out of room, and there is a mold issue in it, which could further compromise the town’s ability to store public records.
Privacy, especially in the Listers’ office, was another problem Sweetapple mentioned. “I’m not really sure how they talk on the phone” it’s so crowded, she said.
“No matter what we do, we have to do something to get [employees] what they need to do the job they do,” Sweetapple told the townspeople.
Renovations to the existing building, Cotton said, would cost about $200,000, plus another $200,000-$250,000 for the addition.
In response to a question from an attendee, Cotton noted that this proposed addition would max out the building’s footprint — it is unlikely other additions could be built.
Although one set of plans Cotton Design created would fix the building’s problems, including constructing a much-needed addition onto the back of the structure, another possibility emerged: start from scratch.
Rick Wilson recently approached town officials seeking to sell his parcel of land that abuts the Town Offices’ property to the north.
Meanwhile, Ed Druke, owner of WW Building Supply, needs more space for his business, which sits on the other side of the Town Offices. If the town could buy Wilson’s land and sell theirs to Druke, it would be a win-win-win.
“It couldn’t be better for the town” that Wilson seeks to sell and Druke seeks to buy and the Town Offices are in the middle, Cotton said.
Thus, the town asked Cotton Design to also draw up plans for a new Town Office building on Wilson’s property, including assessing flood plain and water/septic issues. Designers came up with a single-story building of about 3,300 square feet with no basement.
Cotton attributed a lack of a basement to concerns about flooding.
If the townspeople opt for a new building, Sweetapple said, “we’re assuming we’d get 50 years” before expansion is necessary. The current Town Offices were expanded in 1987.
“Fifty years is better than 30 years,” she added.
Cotton noted the cost of buying Wilson’s property and the income from the sale of the Town Offices property to Druke “would be a wash,” or essentially equivalent. The Wilson property has existing septic, a well, and flat land on which to build. The plans, according to Cotton, provide “more parking that is required by zoning."
A new building would cost about $900,000, Cotton said.
“There is a third option,” Delius reminded townspeople. “Do nothing."
About $30,000 per year would still need to be set aside in the town budget just to maintain the troubled building, Delius said.
“Deferred maintenance needs to be done,” Sweetapple added, and “it hasn’t been.” She repeated the admonition to make the bathrooms ADA accessible, and noted the building is a capital asset and must be kept in working order.
“So, ‘doing nothing’ isn’t accurate,” she said.
Board Vice-Chair Carol Hatcher assured residents the cost of maintaining the Town Offices building will not “get cheaper if we wait and do nothing."
Some attendees May 4 had questions about the building’s appearance.
One attendee asked why there wasn’t better representation from the “historical preservation people.” While that was a valid question on its own, Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli reminded the group that the Town Office building isn’t on the list of historical places.
“I’m speaking as a resident, and not a Selectboard member,” Board member Marion Dowling said to attendees. “I went into this with a romantic ideal of old buildings,” and was skeptical of the option of building from scratch, she said.
Then, she said, she was reminded of the experience she and her husband had of renovating their home, which is an old building.
“We’ve fixed it up and it’s still not right,” she said, noting, “with an old building, you never know what you’re getting into” until you’ve already started digging or tearing down walls.
“I had to open up my vision from just the Town Hall to the whole village,” Dowling said, noting Newfane has lost The Creamery and other businesses. If Druke runs out of room for WW Building Supply, the town might lose that business, too, she said, and “it would be sad."
Frank Suponski, who serves as one of the town’s Listers, said of a new Town Offices building, “I think this is the best thing I’ve heard since I’ve lived in Newfane. To me, it’s a no-brainer!”
Suponski, who identified himself as a general contractor, said that if “the state would okay it, I would donate my time” helping build the new Town Offices, in exchange for some recognition.
“Put my name on a plaque,” he said.
As Delius reminded attendees, the Selectboard “is exploring all options,” and they need townspeople’s input.
“Will the final decision to renovate or build sit in the Selectboard’s hands?” Cristelli asked.
Administrative Assistant Shannon Meckle told Cristelli no, that because a bond is necessary to pay for either project, it would require a townwide vote at a Special Town Meeting after public hearings were conducted.
The next public hearing is scheduled for May 17 at the Williamsville Hall.
“If it takes four or six more meetings to get it right, we’ll do it,” Delius said, urging townspeople to remember, “this is your building."
“Everybody go home and write down everything you can think of about this,” and bring it to the next meeting, Cotton said.