This past week, through the Harvard Hillside, we learned that the cost to renovate our Town Hall had risen to approximately $5 million, a substantial 28 percent increase from the budget previously voted at Town Meeting.
Over the last two years, there have been multiple opinions, disagreements and agreements over how to proceed with our Town Hall facilities. Our citizens have debated this building over and over again, with excellent points presented by both sides.
Included in this process were multiple town forums with respectable attendance. There were those wanting us to build a new town hall, though I do not know where; those who wanted a basic renovation to address the issues of deferred maintenance and the ability to meet current code requirements; those who wanted to move the town offices to a renovated Old Library; and those who wanted the building totally renovated to meet the future needs of a full spectrum of town government and other community social needs.
In the end, the Town Hall Building Committee brought forth the plan for a totally renovated building. This is what the town approved at the annual Town Meeting and the ballot box.
In the 1999 Harvard Town Center Study, it stated "Harvard Center is the municipal, cultural and institutional heart of Harvard." Our Town Hall stands proud at the top of the hill and must continue to serve our residents from this site. I might add that it is also located within the Town Center Historic District. The possibility of tearing it down and building a new town hall has, in my opinion, very little chance of being approved. Look at the time it took to get the proposed building approved.
Financially, if this project does not move forward now, the outcome for the future will be a more expensive project. The original time frame for construction did not, for whatever reason, happen and the economy has started moving forward, which has already affected the cost of this or any other future project.
I recall a June 1974 Special Town Meeting rejected a new two-story fire station at a cost of $350,000. That November, a revised one-story station was proposed and voted for at a cost of $300,000. I understand in the next few years a second floor for the building may be proposed. I think that cost could exceed a million dollars. That 1974 decision was penny-wise and pound-foolish. It is often said that we continue to have the foresight to contribute to our town capital investments based on the future growth and needs of the next generation of citizens.
The cost today includes financing at a low rate of interest. What might the rate be for any future project? If we were to build a new town hall somewhere else or reconsider the use of the Old Library, we would still be faced with addressing the cost of deferred maintenance on our existing Town Hall. More importantly, then, would be what would this building be used for?
I wonder what will happen to the existing Community Preservation Act funding of $1 million. What will be the per-square-foot cost the next time around? I believe if we go back to the drawing board, any future costs will exceed the bid of today.
I am disappointed at the events that have transpired but I see no alternative but to proceed, and I ask you to vote in favor at the Oct. 16 Town Meeting to proceed with this long overdue project.
PETER E. WARREN