HARVARD -- After weeks of waffling and wrangling over the Town Hall renovation project and much discussion Monday night, selectmen decided to move forward, voting four-to-one for one of five cost-conscious redesign options the architects came up with at their request.

Selectmen took over the project earlier this year after the Building Committee presented a $5.1 million budget, well above the $3.9 million Town Meeting approved for the project. Asked to up the amount, townspeople said no.

With some money already spent during the schematic design phase and another $20,000 scooped out of the same pocket for architectural revisions, the selectmen's goal was to complete the project for the $2.1 million left in the construction coffers.

Revised plans in hand, selectmen made one more pitch to the public last week, seeking input to help decide which of several options on the table they should select: Option 1, 1A, 1B, 2 or 2A, with various interior layout configurations and a list of "Chinese menu" items to choose from, such as a sprinkler system, replacement windows or an elevator-versus-a-lift for second floor access.

The selectmen chose Option 1B, same as the choice most people favored at the forum last week. But the recent decision came with caveats. The vote to go with 1B was "subject to" the outcome of a building envelope evaluation, minor floor plan revisions "to be decided" and other issues they agreed to talk about again, including an alternative option Town Administrator Tim Bragan presented in a letter sent to the board earlier.


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Citing numerous program deficiencies in the new designs, Bragan, who worked with the Building Committee previously and consulted Town Hall employees then and now to get a sense of office needs, suggested that it might be prudent to look into leasing office space, freeing up the historic Town Hall building for community uses.

The idea of renting instead of owning town office space isn't as out there as it sounds, Bragan told the board. "I wouldn't have written the letter if it wasn't viable," he said.

Selectmen authorized him to investigate and come back with facts and figures to discuss.

Meantime, there's a new plan on the table, starting with an analysis of the "envelope" of the 1888 "apse" addition, which in the earlier plan proposed by the Building Committee, would have been razed and replaced.

Chairman Stu Sklar had proposed putting the project on hold while an analysis was done to determine if repairing the vintage addition that houses the meeting room is worth it. If there's extensive rot or mold or the structure is unsound, it might be better to tear it down, he said, squeezing Town Hall operations into the main building and making do with meeting space on the second floor.

Selectman Ron Ricci, citing a previous scan of the foundation by a structural engineer, said the addition is probably in decent shape for its advanced age. "He found nothing wrong that can't be fixed," he said.

"The skeptic in me says this is just the latest feint," Selectman Leo Blair said. One more hurdle based on a "false" presumption that the addition could not be saved.

While he and others agreed that having an expert evaluate the building envelope was a good idea, only Sklar saw it as a reason to wait before making a decision most of the board felt had already been postponed too long.

"We have a plan" that could work," Blair opined. But the notion that "people who made lousy decisions all along" would have any more say in the matter was "frustrating," he said. "That's why this board has to make these decisions now."

But Sklar stuck up for the Building Committee, which worked for over two years on the project. "My view of program needs (is that) this space was never adequate," Sklar said. "Look at it your way, my way" or any way, "there was good work done," he said.

Selectman Lucy Wallace pointed out issues in the new design that should be addressed, such as volunteer meeting space and a "break room" that would also house the copier and supplies is simply not big enough, she said. She suggested a trade-off might be to shrink a couple of other offices to create a larger space.

A sticking point for Sklar was the lift in the new design versions versus an elevator that would cost a lot more but in his view is necessary. "The lift is not designed for this sort of application," he said, predicting it would be a "big problem that will bite us in the butt" sooner or later and might not even "meet the letter of the law."

"What else would you give up?" to pay for the elevator, Marie Sobalvarro asked.

It was one of several questions left up in the air when the lengthy discussion wrapped up. The board agreed to talk more later to iron out remaining wrinkles and to map out a work schedule with the architects.

"OK, so we have a path forward," Sklar said, albeit not the one he favored. When it came to a vote on Option 1B, Sklar was the lone dissenter.