HARVARD -- The architects working on the proposed Town Hall building project have new marching orders with a set spending limit, Selectmen Chairman Marie Sobalvarro said last Friday morning.

She and Selectman Leo Blair have been talking with LLB principal R. Drayton Fair about a revised plan.

Selectmen agreed at an earlier session to ask LLB to revisit the original design to bring construction costs back in line with money Town Meeting appropriated for the project. At that time, selectmen were eyeing a provision in the contract they hoped might cover such services. As it turned out, the firm agreed to do it but not for nothing.

With the remaining design budget tapped for the added cost, the expectation is to have a revised set of detailed drawings to present at Annual Town Meeting, selectmen said.

The challenge was to rework the plan to fit the figure Town Meeting approved for the project and get the job done with remaining funds in the project nest egg. "We directed them (LLB) to put a strong focus on working with the money we have," Sobalvarro said.

The big picture question is what the town can get for the $2.5 million left in the budget for construction costs. At the recent meeting, however, the issue before selectmen was whether the list of prioritized items Sobalvarro brought to the table -- things to be included in the revamped plan despite its downsized price tag -- was "reasonable" she said. "Do these components make sense?"

Selectman Lucy Wallace wanted to know if the new design included reconfiguring the first floor to house all town offices downstairs, with a plan for revised traffic flow.


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Turning to Town Administrator Tim Bragan, Sobalvarro said the board was counting on him to come up with a template for that purpose. Basically, who sits where and what they do. Given that input, the downstairs makeover will be included, she said.

Wallace offered to help Bragan look at the layout with an eye to space allocation.

Wallace was concerned about public access versus security and how folks enter the building to get to various offices. She prefers to have everyone use the main entrance rather than create an alternative path to certain offices via back or side door entries, which could lead to people "wandering" though the building, she said.

Blair, who presented simple sketches of his own based on fixing up rather than tearing up the interior of the building and renovating only as needed, said it's a simple matter of shuffling offices around based in part on how much traffic they typically generate.

"It won't cost any more to reassign space," he pointed out. But if "reconfiguring" means moving walls or ceilings, that will cost more, he said. But it shouldn't be necessary. "We need not to let space allocation and use start driving the design," he cautioned.

With the concept of wish list-driven design abandoned, design "drivers" in priority order now are code compliance, safety, public access, convenience and comfort, Blair said.

But in his view, a sprinkler system is an essential safety device that should be on the list of features included, even if it's not required and despite the estimated $352,000 cost.

Bragan tended to agree, noting that it would also protect the substantial investment the town is making in this old building, including blown-in insulation, a new roof, shoring up the foundation of the existing addition and adding one or two lifts for second floor access.

After some discussion, the board agreed the plan Blair sketched out was a good one and the menu of features and fixtures captured "most of what we wanted" for the price.

To move or not?

Selectmen seem to be mostly on the same page now, but the temporary relocation issue might come up again.

With a previous, more costly design in the works, selectmen tasked Bragan with finding rental space for Town Hall to move into while the renovation was underway. After considering several options, including offices at Devens, the board settled on the Appleworks building on Ayer Road for the duration, about a year to 18 months.

With the plan later placed on hold after the project cost ceiling was breached and townspeople refused to foot the new bill, Bragan asked for a stay on the lease so the town didn't have to start paying rent yet and the landlord apparently agreed. 

Now, it's unclear if relocation will be necessary after all.

The reconsidered plan will be a lot less extensive as well as less expensive, with the current addition and major systems in place. "The big cost difference is working within the existing envelope," Blair said. And it won't take long if work starts soon, he said.