OLD TOWN, Maine — At the regular meeting of the Old Town City Council on Monday, council members will vote on whether to move forward with a proposal to construct a new City Hall.
Approval of the agenda item would authorize City Manager Peggy Daigle to contract with Carpenter Associates, an Old Town engineering firm, to complete construction documents for the new City Hall and put the project out to bid as soon as possible.
The plan calls for the construction of a new, two-story wood-frame building on a city-owned lot on Shirley Street behind the Old Town Public Library.
Daigle said at a recent public meeting that it is increasingly difficult for municipal staff to do their work efficiently in the rented space they have occupied for the last four years in the Bangor Savings Bank building on Main Street.
Old Town’s changing fortunes and the general economic downturn have created a climate of crisis, she acknowledged, but decisions still must be made.
“That’s where leadership comes in, making the tough decisions,” she said. “There’s never going to be a better time. The need is there, the money is there and there won’t be a tax increase to pay for it.”
The projected $2.8 million plan represents a significant increase over the estimated $1.3 million cost of rehabilitating the Erland Sleight Building, an existing city-owned structure near the former Red Shield mill at the edge of town. The building is unoccupied.
Debt incurred by the construction would be paid from the fund created by the tipping fees contributed to the city by Casella, the company that operates the Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town. Some councilors and members of the public have said using the Juniper Ridge fund is tantamount to raising taxes because that money would not be available to pay for other municipal programs.
The plan to remodel the Erland Sleight Building was popular with some city officials, councilors and residents, but fell out of favor when objections were raised that the site is too far away from other municipal resources.
The new-construction plan uses the basic layout of the Erland Sleight Building while siting the City Hall in the heart of Old Town, close to the library, the public safety building, the post office and other high-use public destinations.
Preliminary architectural drawings depict a rectangular, two-story, 95-foot-by-51-foot structure built on a frost wall. The street-level floor includes the council chambers as well as restrooms, a kitchen, and spaces for utilities and storage. The second floor, reached by stairs and an elevator, includes an open area for licensing and other public services, a conference room and office space for the city manager and administrative staff.
The proposed construction site is used now for library parking and it is not clear where additional parking for the library and the City Hall might be located.
At the council’s Oct. 23 special meeting, Daigle, council members and the public weighed in on the City Hall proposal.
Council member Jamie Dufour said he could not support the more than $1 million difference between building new versus renovating existing space. “Using the landfill money is still raising taxes,” he said. “If we can’t hold the taxes flat, maybe we shouldn’t be spending $2 million on City Hall.”
Member Allen Stormann agreed. “I propose we go back and look at Erland Sleight,” he said. “A million bucks is a lot of money.”
Old Town resident Monique Bouchard said many residents would rethink their objection to the Erland Sleight location given the cost increase of the new construction.
“If the citizens of this town realized it’s such a gigantic increase … they might say it’s not so convenient but, OK, fine, it’s a lot less expensive,” she said.
Bennoch Road resident Walter St. John said the current economic climate calls for strict curtailment of public spending.
“I favor city employees having a decent place to work,” he said. “But one needs to wonder if now is the time to spend an extra dime for anything. … There should be no additional expenditures until the fiscal situation in the country clarifies.”
But Councilor Linda McLeod said the new construction proposal offers many long-term benefits, including energy efficiency, easy public access and convenience to other downtown destinations. The current economic downturn means contractors will be bidding more competitively, she added.
“The longer we wait, the more it’s going to go up,” McLeod said.
The City Hall issue will be taken up at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3, in the Old Town Public Library at 46 Middle St.