HARVARD -- Town Hall Building Committee Chairman Pete Jackson emailed fellow committee members and town officials to announce his decision to step down, but he has now decided not to leave.

In a phone conversation with a Harvard Hillside reporter July 5, Jackson said that despite commitments and time constraints he'd cited for opting out early, he's decided to stay on, at least for now.

In the email announcing his decision, Jackson noted "several new town projects" he's working on this year that promised to take up all of his available time. Projects such as generator wiring and other upgrades at the library, where he is a trustee and serves as a volunteer facilities manager, a CPA-funded wall restoration on Mass Avenue and numerous other items on his to-do list, including work that needs doing at his own house before winter.

Now, Jackson says he'll try to juggle everything but might still resign later if it's too much.

But his now-rescinded resignation via email that made the rounds a week after the committee was reappointed raised eyebrows at the time and some speculation that it might have been sparked by late-breaking design changes from the Historic Commission.

In the email, Jackson said he'd decided "not to seek reappointment for another term." But he'd already been re-appointed and gave no indication that he planned to step down when he updated the selectmen on the project at their last meeting.

Asked for comment, Jackson denied that's what caused him to consider leaving, although he said it didn't help matters and he clearly considered the HC's design tinkering a curveball late in the game. The THBC worked with the commission to ensure the design was "historically appropriate," he said, but the latest changes were tantamount to a makeover.

At a public forum a couple of weeks ago, commissioners trotted out so many add-ins and do-overs that, in his view, it was as if they were re-designing the building.

"We designed a Chevy," but they wanted a Ford, he said. And they've been playing "Mr. Potato Head" with the architectural drawings ever since, he said, plugging in some items, repositioning others.

The bidding process to hire a contractor comes next, but Jackson told the Historic Commission at its June 26 meeting that he favored holding off until the committee hosts another public meeting to discuss design changes the HC wants to make.

Views and Viewpoints

Leafing through the slide presentation he previously gave the selectmen, Jackson showed the commissioners sample sketches of features and fixtures they were interested in, including shutters, roof angles and portico overhangs, connecting configurations for the addition, various window patterns, placement of a "fake window" on the second floor and "all kinds of combinations and permutations" to choose from.

At a previous meeting, the HC went over 26 drawings and didn't like any of them," he told the Hillside.

At some point in the recent meeting, Jackson seemed frustrated with the level of detail the commissioners were looking for. Observed online via YouTube video filmed by the Cable Committee, back and forth during the latter part of the session, while courteous, came across as a bit contentious.

Jackson reminded commissioners that this was "the seventh meeting I've been to," including the design development phase and public meetings. That was the time to make changes, he said. But changes they're eyeing now would alter the design townspeople were presented with and would impact the project schedule and budget, he said.

"It's a new design, a new approach," he said. People had a "simpler" project in mind. The new look includes "more historic restoration than we'd planned," he said, and people have a right to speak up as to how much added cost they want to take on.

But Commissioner Ron Ostberg said there was no need to run the HC's proposed design changes by the public. "How did it work with the library? he asked Jackson, who was a leader on that project, too. Did the other building committee take mid-project design changes back to Town Meeting before they were implemented?

Jackson said no, but planners kept folks up to date. Besides, the comparison isn't valid, he said. With 13 building committee members and the Library Trustees to shepherd it, the earlier project was nothing like the Town Hall building project, and fully funded besides. 

Positing that the THBC would "probably" hold a public forum, he invited the commissioners to present and explain the changes they were proposing.

Chairman Ken Swanton said he'd be glad to, but didn't think the changes were a big deal.

Ostberg didn't think so either. He predicted little or no cost increase and offered to "price it out." His take was that boards tend to have turf struggles over projects like this one.

"These are the kinds of pissing contests that go on all the time," he said.

Given that this is a $3.5 million project, changes the HC wants to make are "nothing to speak of" in terms of added cost, he said.

Jackson disagreed, pointing out that they are extending the porch and adding windows, for example, and that the public had seen a different, simpler design to begin with.

But Swanton said the HC raised issues early in the project and was doing its job now. The people voted to establish a Historic Commission, he pointed out.

Commissioner Chris Cutler, who also serves on the THBC, saw both sides. "Pete has a point, but I don't think we (HC) changed the design," he said.

Maybe not in a "major" way, but its "look and feel" are different, Jackson responded. "Let's let the public have a look at it before we go out to bid," whether it costs more or not. Citizens own the building, after all, he said.

Ostberg, however, argued that there wouldn't be added cost and it would be a waste of time to hold yet another public forum to present subtle design changes.

"Frankly, this has been a kid-gloves operation," he said.

"Fine, if you don't want to show it, I will," Jackson said.

The takeaway was that if the THBC holds a meeting, the HC would come.

Now, it looks like it won't come to that. Instead, Jackson said representative subgroups that include members with professional expertise and the architects are working out design differences and the project can stay on track.

The HC canceled its July 9 meeting, but planned to attend a THBC meeting set for Wednesday, July 10, when they expected to vote on a design acceptable to both groups.