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It's Time for a Barn-Raising!

Killingworth's Town Hall Building Committee unveils a plan for a $3.5 million addition that harkens back to old New England and meets town needs for generations to come.

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.”

Fiscally Conservative May 02, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I sincerely hope the people of Killingworth stand up to being this committee and administration back down to reality. Post and Beam construction!!! It's a town hall for Christ sake. While Geothermal heat is a nice to have I am sure the price tag is enormous. What about the two huge Pharmedica buildings that have more than enough space and most likely at a much lower cost with much better parking facilities?
Polly Scarvalone May 02, 2012 at 02:16 PM
I really like the plan and how it fits into Killingworth's rural character. It expands the meeting space for our town, provides emergency facilities, is an investment in green energy and future needs of the community, and is coming at a great time (for low rates and good jobs). I hope we can all come together in supporting it. Perhaps we should have some Barn-raising fundraisers!
Kathleen Amoia May 03, 2012 at 01:29 PM
The Town Hall Committee gave a very complete presentation at the meeting Tuesday night. Many questions were answered, including the choice of design and the cost. The Pharmedica building plan was discussed as was the geothermal heating system. It was clear from each part of the presentation that cost to the taxpayers was always a consideration. This volunteer committee did their homework and had the expertise among them to know what that homework had to be. The plan looks like a winner to me, fiscally responsible and architecturally in keeping with the rural nature of our town. Let's not kick this particular can down the road again to be addressed yet again ten years from now. The timing is right. Kathleen Amoia
No more taxes May 03, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Polly, you've raised a wonderful idea! We think this project is perfect for private donations to fund the proposed town hall renovation.. Thank you for the suggestion. It seems fairly obvious to us that the Town of Killingworth is very fortunate. Fortunate in that most of the residents in town seem to have plenty of disposable income. We say this because every year taxes continue to rise and no one cares! This year we have a proposed budget that on the surface suggests taxes will go down for some while the majority will see a tax increase. Additionally, the mil rate is expected to rise which suggests that next year everyone's taxes will go up because we are creating a higher basis. Again, not many people complain! Some of us had enjoyed the presentation Tuesday night depicting a new town hall which showed the projected cost of $3.5 million. This was truely a beautiful structure and would anyone have expected anything less? Of course, this figure is the minimum because we know what happens to construction budgets! All we hear is taxes, taxes and more taxes. Yes, the Town of Killingworth is very fortunate to have so many wealthy residents that believe it is more important for government to spend then create ways to increase revenues through means other then taxes!
Dave Adametz May 03, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Is there a transcript or recording of the minutes of this meeting anywhere? I had to work and couldn't attend, but I really would like to know why the Pharmedica complex wasn't a suitable choice. I simply cannot accept the claim at face value that it's supposed to be more fiscally responsible to build a brand new $3.5 million addition than to move into an empty office building that's waiting for someone to move into it just down the street. I would also appreciate it if people would stop waving the "volunteer" flag as they champion this project. It's already been shown the architects are being paid $125,000 to design this thing so claiming this is a volunteer project is an insult to people who really do volunteer their time for others.
Kathleen Amoia May 03, 2012 at 05:06 PM
I will always wave the volunteer flag in this town, David, because I see the work of volunteers everyday. The library with its front desk manned by volunteers and its book sales run by them, the Land Trust, the Historical Society, the Fire and Ambulance Associations, the Community Gardens, the coaches for our local ball teams, the Garden Club, the Lions, the Killingworth Women's Organization, the Killlingworth Foundation, our town committees and commission, all working to make Killingworth a better place. And I apologize in advance for any group I left out. Long and proud may the volunteer flag wave !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And the Town Hall Building Committee, experts in their fields, fiscally responsible people, gave many hours to do the job right. Yes, the architect got paid. Why wouldn't he? Kathleen Amoia Kathleen Amoia
Dave Adametz May 03, 2012 at 06:26 PM
I'm sorry, Kathleen, but that statement is less than satisfying. Just to let you know, I myself have volunteered to help feed people in homeless shelters in Hartford, I've handed out teddy bears to underpriviledged children during Christmas charities, I've worked for fund raiser events against cervical cancer in coordination with the Elks club, and I've even strapped a scuba tank on my back and helped clean up the decades of junk that people have thrown off the docks in New London, so you'll forgive me when I say I have a different view of what volunteerism is than you do. People sitting down and deciding on how to spend money the town doesn't have on a new office building isn't volunteer work; it's just people sitting down and deciding on how to spend money the town doesn't have on a new office building. Putting people who are sitting down and deciding on how to spend money the town doesn't have on a new office building on the same level as our heroes who risk their lives putting out fires or work to save the lives of others during medical emergencies is preposterous. Besides, nobody is even raising concerns over the Fire or Ambulance associations or even the Lions. They're raising concerns over people sitting down and spending money the town doesn't have on a new office building. What does the fire/ambulance associations or even the Lions have anything to do with this?

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