HARVARD -- During a discussion with selectmen last week, Hildreth House Improvement Committee members presented the latest update on evolving renovation plans for the old building.

Formerly the summer home of a prominent family, the gracious old manse on the hill behind Town Hall now belongs to the town and serves as headquarters for the Council on Aging as well as a senior center and meeting venue.

And it needs work, lots of work - in addition to repairs previously done - to preserve the Victorian building and make it a suitable home for senior activities going forward.

LLB, the Rhode Island-based architects working on the Town Hall renovation project, produced a pricey design vision for Hildreth House a couple of years ago that included a spacious two-story addition and extensive exterior and interior upgrades.

Citing sticker shock, selectmen appointed the HHIC to take a second look at the renovation plan with an eye toward reasonable limits and cost control.

Now, the group has been asked to revisit the revised plan they came up with and to downsize the estimated $4 million price tag.

Presenting their recent re-do to the selectmen, HHIC and COA board member Connie Larrabee listed corners they've cut already, such as swapping an elevator for a lift for second floor access and reworking the kitchen design.

Instead of upgrading the kitchen with commercial-grade features and fixtures so that meals could be prepared on site, as planned, a less costly option would be to rough it out and wait.


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That is, set up the kitchen for cooking but "scale back" on equipment that can be added later, perhaps with private donations, Larrabee said.

But the problematic parking situation can't wait, Larrabee said, noting the HHIC's focus on addressing safety issues first.

Selectman Leo Blair, who has been a vocal critic of the renovation design, said the current version as presented sounded doable, all of it, and that the work was within reasonable parameters. He asked how many square feet would be added to the structure.

Just 2,000 square feet, with bathrooms on each floor, said Selectman Lucy Wallace, a former COA member and current HHIC liaison,

Blair had more questions about the parking and a well-received recommendation for the parking plan: creating 20 spaces in front of the building, with overflow in the lower lot.

Larrabee said the HHIC asked the Planning Board if its site review showed a need to widen the driveway, which winds uphill behind Town Hall from Ayer Road. The board hasn't answered them yet, she said. "Ask the architects," Blair suggested.

Larrabee said she'd do that. Also, there was "some talk" about offering options for voters to choose from when HHIC takes its case to Town Meeting next year, she said.

Rather than a menu, Blair suggested presenting "a certain scope of work" with more to come. "It might be an easier sell," he said. The phased-in approach would align building projects - including Hildreth House - with the town's level of debt, Blair said.

Wallace said she's confident that if Larrabee can "squeeze" the project cost any more, she would do so but in any case "we'll know more by June."

Chairman Marie Sobalvarro asked how much it would cost to have LLB do a feasibility study for the downsized renovation plan.

Larrabee said that when she asked some time ago it was $20,000 and she figured the price was locked in. But there would be other costs as the project moves forward.

Citing various resources, including a town trust fund they control, selectmen said they could come up with money for the study and for HHIC to continue working with LLB.