Guilford plans to renovate Town Office

Town budgets $228,000 for workspace makeover

GUILFORD — The Selectboard approved preliminary plans for extensive Town Office renovations, including exterior site work, improved insulation, and adding an additional wing. The budget for the project is $228,000.

At the April 23 regular Selectboard meeting, Board Chair Sheila Morse assured residents this project will require no debt or tax increase. The reserve fund can cover all costs.

The town offices building dates from 1971, with an addition built in 1996. Since that time, Morse said, “as responsibilities increase, so does traffic in the Town Office.”

Morse explained the reasons for this project, saying that some issues town staff have dealt with in the building include “multiple ice dams, a failed septic system, leaks from the roof into offices, failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, energy inefficiencies, and others.”

Town staff, including Morse, who helped insulate pipes in the attic, have tried to keep up with the repairs. “Over time, it became clear that we needed a plan for major and much needed renovations,” she noted.

During the past year, the Selectboard has had thorough discussions about the town office and came up with four primary goals for the building and any plans for renovating it: extend its life for several more decades, conserve town funds, make it ADA-compliant and accessible to all residents and visitors, and make the building “as green as possible” to enhance energy efficiency and “realize savings,” Morse said.

In 2017, the Selectboard issued a request for proposals, and after they reviewed five submissions, the Board chose Putney-based Greenberg Associates Architects, which hired GPI Construction of Brattleboro for construction management.

Discussing details

At the April 23 meeting, Chip Greenberg, of the architecture firm, and Joe Fortier from GPI, went over some details of the project and answered questions from Board members and the audience.

Greenberg noted his firm does “many projects like this,” and there's a “big team working on this,” including consultants addressing electrical and lighting systems, civil engineering and site design, and mechanical plans.

To address energy efficiency, plans include a new HVAC system, roof, windows in the oldest part of the building, and LED light fixtures. Improved insulation is part of the plan, and that will go throughout the structure, including in the attic, where better temperature control will allow for secure storage.

The renovation will expand the footprint of the building from 2,025 square feet to 2,337 square feet, and add an office for the town administrator, expanded space for the listers, and a small conference room. This room, located near the vaults, will have a glass-paneled door separating it from the town clerk's office so the clerk can monitor visitors examining town archives.

Greenberg noted the attic area is 923 square feet, “and now we count the attic because it'll be usable.”

These plans, according to Greenberg and Fortier, will likely suit the town's needs for at least 30 years.

Exterior site work will address grading issues on one side of the building, fix the sewer line, and make well improvements. Fortier pointed out the town office's parking lot is in good shape, so work is not needed there. Morse agreed.

Expanding accessibility

Some features of the renovation will give people with mobility challenges access to the town offices. “This is a public building,” Greenberg said, “and it needs to be accessible to the handicapped.” The main entrance will get a gentle slope between the parking lot and the lobby, and the bathroom will be ADA-compliant.

Other features will improve the functioning and comfort for town staff and visitors. Plans include new flooring, a lobby with room for seating, a better flow of foot-traffic throughout the building, a coffee bar for staff and visitors, and a dedicated room for the Selectboard and other public meetings.

During the discussion, Greenberg and Fortier presented a number of alternate plans for various components. The Selectboard voted to remove the building's vinyl siding and add hemlock clapboards to both the old and new exterior walls. Fortier recommended the Board choose the hemlock siding because “it'll look nicer.”

Board members, Greenberg, and Fortier discussed the timeline for the project.

The next big step, said Greenberg, is to send the drawings to the Division of Fire and Safety, and for Greenberg and his staff to meet with them, to seek a permit for the plans. This should take approximately 30 days, Greenberg said.

Some audience members questioned the base price for the renovations, noting that $228,000 could buy an entire house.

“At this stage of the process, these are preliminary budget figures based on square-area volume,” said Fortier. The plans the architects presented are still schematic plans, Fortier noted. Greenberg agreed, and said, “we may see some savings when we put the project out to bid.”

“We've been looking at this since we first started talking about replacing the roof - for a range of quotes anywhere between $12,000 and $75,000 - in 2015,” said Morse.

“We're beyond the 'shock phase', and into, 'Okay, we need to get this done,'” she added.

No new taxes

Morse assured attendees, “This can be done without raising taxes or going into debt” because town officials and voters planned ahead.

In 2013, voters approved establishing a reserve fund, in accordance with state statute. The reason, according to town documents, is to fund “unanticipated expenditures and revenue shortfalls during the course of the fiscal year as may be caused by economic downturns, natural disasters, and other unforeseen circumstances.” The reserve fund is fed by budget surplus funds when available.

According to figures supplied at the Selectboard meeting and confirmed by Town Administrator Peder Rude, there is $436,908 in the reserve fund.

Resident Allen Bellville asked Morse if the Selectboard will conduct a town-wide vote on the proposed renovations.

“No,” Morse said, because, “this is within the mandate of the Selectboard.”

Dana Berry, who identified herself as a new Guilford resident, praised the Selectboard for their “due diligence.” She said this is a good project, and will take care of the town's paid staff and Selectboard members.

“I know it sounds like a lot of money,” said Berry, “but over time I think it's going to be a very good investment.”

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