After more than a decade of attempts to solve the “town hall problem” – the town office building committee hopes to present final plans and costs for a major addition to town hall early next year.
“We’re still finalizing all the numbers, so it probably won’t be ready for selectmen until after the first of the year,” said Jim Lally, chairman of the committee that devoted two years of work to the project.
The basic concept remains the same as that presented to selectmen in 2008: a post-and-beam barnlike structure on two levels that would be replace the deteriorating modular units at the rear of town hall that currently house the offices for the selectmen, finance director, and land use.
But Lally and First Selectwoman Catherine Iino said, the scope of the plans has grown from the original to include an emergency operations center, office for the resident state trooper, and a town meeting room on the lower level.
Iino said the importance of having a modern emergency operations center was abundantly demonstrated by the difficulties of responding to situations in the two major storms this fall. “It just makes sense to have all emergency operations and the state trooper in proximity to the fire house and centrally located in town hall,” she said.
The new town meeting room would be an asset for town elections, sparing the extra work needed to have the polls in Killingworth Elementary School, she said. “We really need more meeting rooms,” she noted.
The town has hired the architectural firm of Jacunski Humes of Berlin to work with the TOB committee to develop preliminary sketches and cost estimates for presentation to townspeople; if the project wins town approval, the firm would prepare formal architectural drawings and construction bid applications, as well as other services, for a total cost of $125,000.
The town also has applied for a $500,000 grant from the state’s Small Town Economic Improvement Program to defray the overall expense, she said.
While still a small town, Killingworth grew to a point more than 10 years ago where it needed more town employees than town hall seemed to be able to accommodate. Former first selectman David LeVasseur once said of the cramped quarters in the antique farmhouse that serves as Killingworth’s town hall, “We’re sitting on top of each other here.”
For years, the offices of the first selectman and resident state trooper were on the second floor, accessible only by a narrow staircase that emphatically conveyed the antiquity of the building.
Solutions for the office space problems have ranged from construction of an entirely new building on the site of the public works barn, next to town hall, or as part of a grandly conceived town center that would be developed on the 45 acres of town property at the transfer station.
One of the several committees to study the problem pondered – and rejected - the purchase of the former Pharmedica Communications building for conversion for town hall use, while former first selectman Martin Klein aired the idea of converting Killingworth Elementary School into town offices.
As an interim solution, townspeople in 2001 approved the installation of the two leased modular buildings, and Iino said the town made the final payment on the $229,000, 10-year lease in 2010.
If the modular units have provided needed extra space, they also have aged … rapidly, Iino said. With roof leaks and an eye trained on the heavy heating and cooling units on the roof – “It’s not a problem unless it falls on our heads,” Iino remarked – she said there is no deadline to replace the modulars, “but I hope it’s soon. I’d rather not put a lot of money into making these habitable.”
As a prelude to the town hall addition, the town last year expanded the town clerk’s office and renovated much of the first floor; the departure of the probate court allowed the tax collector to move to the front of the building to escape the leaky roof in the modular portion of the building.
If and when construction actually does begin on the town hall addition, Iino said that her office will have to temporarily return to its old second floor space, and “we’ll have to figure out where to put the land use department.