After two long years, the wait is over. Last night Killingworth’s Town Hall Building Committee unveiled its proposal for a new and improved town hall that, for $3.5 million, its members believe could meet the town’s needs for generations to come.
The proposed 7,300 square foot addition to the existing Town Hall would be an energy-efficient post-and-beam constructed building heated by geothermal energy and solar panels. In terms of design, it harkens back to the New England tradition of plots that included a big house, a little house, a back house, and a barn. In this case, the existing Town Hall would be the big house. The addition would be a barn-like structure with vaulted ceilings and a lot more space.
More than 75 residents turned out for the meeting and, after hearing the
presentation, seemed well-pleased with the concept and the design.
“I think it looks great and I’m so happy to see it’s going to be energy efficient,” said Divinna Schmitt.
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Breaking Down the Numbers
At least one person choked a little on the price tag. Committee members, all of whom are volunteers and local residents with an interest in keeping costs down, said they knew how he felt. “When we saw the first estimate we said, ‘How can this be?’” said Building Committee member George Keithan.
After gathering estimates from an outside consultant, a local contractor, and doing a few of their own, Building Committee members (most of who work in construction) say the numbers came out the same way no matter who crunched them.
The bottom line seems to be that the new building will cost about $3.5 million. That breaks down to $2.3 million in construction costs, which includes everything from the post-and-beam construction to the cost of new furniture, fixtures, and carpets. The Committee included another $700,000 for site work, which is one of the biggest unknowns at the moment but which will at the very least include installing a new septic system and sprinkler system that will serve surrounding buildings and
$500,000 in professional services and fees.
No matter how you slice it, the new building won’t come cheap but, as Keithan noted, if the town wants to solve its space problems once and for all, now is the time to do it. The town of Killingworth has a very favorable bond rating at the moment and interest rates on a 20-year bond are at historic lows.
Typically, rates are about 5 percent but currently they’re closer to 2 percent. Based on an interest rate of 3 percent, the committee estimates that new construction will only raise the mill rate by 0.3, which amounts to about $70 a year for the average household.
The state’s high unemployment rate and flat housing market also works in the town’s favor right now. People need jobs, which this project would provide, and contractors eager for work are entering very competitive bids. “It’s a low cost time to build this building,” said Keithan. “It’s the least expensive option over the long term.”
A Quick Fix Versus a Long-term Solution
Compared to the $900,000 cost of replacing the modular buildings, $3.5 million sounds like a lot but modular buildings have a very limited lifespan and the existing modulars are definitely on their last legs.
During the heavy snow storms two years ago, town employees working in the modular buildings were stacking file cabinets to shore up the ceiling, which in addition to dangerously sagging then also leaked this year. There’s rot in the wall, the well water system and heating and air-conditioning systems need replacing, and there’s inadequate insulation, which is making energy costs soar.
“Those modulars are going to come down either by nature or by crane,” said Keithan.
When the structurally-failing modular construction was added in 2001, the town viewed it as a temporary solution to growing space needs, committee members said. From 1990 to 2000, Killingworth’s population had swelled from 4,800 to 6,150, making it the fastest growing town in Connecticut. Since then the population growth has evened out but the Town Hall still needs a permanent solution to its space problem that will give it room to grow.
A Historical Perspective
The current Building Committee has spent the past two years grappling with how to meet Killingworth’s needs for a town hall but its members were hardly the first to do so. They’ve reviewed dozens of costly studies and meeting minutes in which the Town Hall building was discussed dating back decades.
“We have been saying the same thing since 1965!” said Keithan.
The current building wasn’t even the first choice for Killingworth’s leaders in 1965, the committee discovered, but it was relatively cheap at $19,000 and it had room to store trucks. Time after time, voters rejected proposed changes--but the issue never went away.
Considering all the Options
Today, because the historic building is not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act requirements for access, the second floor isn’t useable. So why keep it? The vaults alone—which are costly, necessary, and rare--make the building worth hanging on to, Keithan said, and as the town has already spent money to repair and restore the original building, to scrap it now would be to throw yet more money away.
Building Committee members considered buying an existing building but there wasn’t one suitable. Building from scratch was also ruled out as it was the most expensive proposition. The cheapest option, replacing the modular units, didn’t seem like a wise investment.
From an aesthetic perspective, the modular buildings never worked anyway. The original building, which dates to 1830, has all the charm
and character of old New England; the modular buildings not so much.
Still, the committee had to find a way to solve some really basic problems. The historic Town Hall lacks meeting space—at best it can accommodate 20 people in a room. Killingworth needs a meeting room that can hold at least 75 people. As last year’s storms so ably demonstrated, the town really needs an emergency operations center and there’s currently no emergency power.
Plans for the new building would solve all those problems with an emergency operations center equipped with a kitchen and shower, and a large meeting room with expanded bathrooms to meet the needs of 75 people. Plans also include an office for the local state trooper, room for the food pantry, and space for the registrar of voters to store voting machines and hold polls that are compliant with state law.
“We’re going at this with the idea of this being a permanent solution,” said Keithan. “If we build it cheap, we’re going to have to fix it and spend more money. Let’s build something that’s going to be around for 100 years, so in 10 years from now someone else won’t be up here saying the same thing.”