BREWER, Maine — City leaders who decided in June to work toward installing an elevator at City Hall to improve handicapped accessibility heard Tuesday that the price tag had nearly doubled and decided to postpone the project indefinitely.
“Where do we come up with the $880,000?” Councilor Jerry Goss asked. “I like the project and I think it needs to be done, but I don’t see the monies in the coffers.”
Mayor Joseph Ferris, Councilor Larry Doughty and two residents also spoke in opposition to spending the money on the project at this time. All said the project is needed.
The most recent price estimate to add an elevator to the back side of City Hall, remove the old library and create a parking lot came in at around $1.175 million, said Matt Carter, WBRC Architects and Engineers project architect.
The city has $321,750 in Housing and Urban Development grant funds to offset costs.
Carter gave councilors a history of the project, which originally called for moving City Council chambers to the handicapped-accessible former library next door and freeing up space at City Hall for staff.
When councilors heard that it would cost more than $1.3 million to make those changes, they decided to scale back the project to just add an elevator to City Hall. However, they did not include the project in this year’s budget.
Councilor Arthur “Archie” Verow asked at the May 18 budget hearing that the project be added to the budget, and three out of five councilors agree to move forward with the project at their June meeting. At that time, the project was expected to cost around $622,000.
Verow told fellow councilors Tuesday that even with the higher price tag, the city should move forward with adding handicapped accessibility.
“We’re going to deny certain citizens access to this building,” he said, adding later, “I think it’s a shame if we don’t go forward.”
Carter said that a big portion of the difference in prices, around $200,000, is due to the cost of underpinning, which he explained is where the building is raised and new foundation footings are added underneath the original ones.
“It’s rather hair-raising work,” he said.
After the presentation Mayor Ferris said he was torn.
“I want us to have an elevator. I want us to have a City Hall that is accessible without the embarrassment” of having to use the chairlift, he said, adding later, “I think it’s the right thing to do … [but] I’m concerned that this is so expensive at this time. It’s hard to justify.”
The council voted 4-1, with Verow casting the lone vote in support, not to move forward with adding the elevator to City Hall at this time.
During the meeting, city councilors also:
ä Heard from Assistant City Manager James Smith that it would cost around $90,000 to start broadcasting city meetings on the local government-access cable station. The cost of operating and maintenance costs would be minimal but around $12,000 would need to be set aside annually to replace or update the equipment every five years, he said.
ä Were presented with the 2010 audit by Finance Director Karen Fussell and South Portland accounting firm Runyon, Kersteen and Ouellette. The audit shows that the city’s general fund has decreased in the past two years, but the city is still in a fairly good financial position.