Freedom – January 5, 2010 – After nine months of steady progress, the committee studying where to locate Freedom’s municipal services will consider voting on what to recommend to the Select Board when it meets this Wednesday night.
But before it states its opinion, the group, known as the Article 26 Committee, faces a decision that has the potential to upset the harmony that has characterized the process to date. That decision is whether to recommend a single ‘preferred option’ to the selectmen, or recommend more than one option for voters to choose from at Town Meeting.
The issue of options surfaced at last week’s meeting after Selectman Neal Boyle said he felt townspeople did not want to be presented with the same option they defeated last year, namely moving services out of the village to Ossipee Lake Road. That option is still on the table with the Committee.
Boyle’s comment prompted a heated response from Committee member and former selectman John Krebs, who had stated his preference for the Ossipee Lake Road option. Krebs said Boyle didn’t understand the group’s charter. After some additional raised-voice exchanges, including with members of the audience, Krebs angrily left the meeting.
That the atmosphere has become charged at this stage of the process is not surprising given the intensity of feelings on the issue, particularly in regard to the fate of the Town Office building.
For some town residents, keeping core municipal functions in the former school house on Old Portland Road is an important part of the village revitalization that began last year with the successful reopening of the Freedom Village Store.
Last March, by a 2 to 1 margin voters rejected a warrant article to purchase land on Ossipee Lake Road to consolidate town services. By the same margin, voters authorized the selectmen to conduct a professional study of the existing town buildings and develop cost comparisons between renovation and new construction to comply with building code requirements and space needs.
Those favoring refurbishing the Town Office argue that the steady stream of residents into the village to conduct business and attend meetings is part of what makes the community unique. Others argue, as the Select Board did last year, that refurbishing the aging Town Office building presents too many challenges and compromises, and relocation is more logical.
Both sides in the debate agree the town has no other obvious use for the Town Office building and will have to pay to maintain it even if its current use is abandoned.
While cost comparisons are still being refined, three main options appear to remain on the table: (1) refurbishing the Town Office and consolidating police and fire functions at the current Fire Department site; (2) consolidating all town functions at the current Fire Department site; and (3) consolidating all functions on land to be purchased on Ossipee Lake Road.
At last week’s meeting, Committee members Les Babb, Chuck Brooks and John Shipman said they were leaning toward recommending that all services be located at the current Fire Department site, while John Krebs said he favored consolidation at Ossipee Lake Road. Committee member Lee Fritz was not present, but in the past has said she wants to see the Town Office building retained.
At a previous meeting of the Committee, Fritz asked members of the audience if they would be willing to pay a premium, if necessary, to retain the Town Office at its current site. A majority of those in attendance indicated they would.
Also favoring refurbishing the Town Office Building are architect Ian Marshall and his wife, town planner, Jean Marshall, who are long time Berry Bay property owners. Prior to last week’s meeting, the pair sent the Committee a memo contending that some of the means the consultants used to arrive at cost comparisons show a predisposition toward new construction.
For example, the Marshalls said the consultants were comparing 5,652 sq. ft. of new-plus-refurbished space at the current Town Office against a total of just 2,810 sq. ft. of new office space on the proposed sites outside the village.
“The cost comparison has not been made between equal floor areas,” they concluded in the memo, adding that the disparity made the average square-foot cost of new and old combined on the current Town Office site significantly higher than the consultants’ estimated average square-foot cost for all-new construction.
In an e-mail on Monday, the Marshalls said that it appears from the consultants’ estimates that the premium for keeping the Town Office where it is could be around 10% of the total project cost. They projected this would be offset by the fact that the town would be using the building instead of paying to maintain it empty.
“If people think it’s worthwhile to keep government in the old village center, it could be done, and done at reasonable cost,” she and her husband wrote in their memo to the Committee.
“The cost that cannot be estimated is the loss to the Town if the offices move out of the Village Center and leave this building empty,” they added.
Article 26 Committee Chairman John Shipman said by email on Monday that he hopes to be able to make a recommendation to the Select Board on Wednesday night, adding that whether it will be a single option or more than one option remains undecided.
The Article 26 Committee’s meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at Freedom Town Hall and is open to the public.
I thought the vote last year was clear that people wanted to keep the town office where it is unless it’s absolutely positively impossible. You get what you ask for from consultants. If the town had told the consultants to bust their butts and come up with a clever way to keep that building in operation, and then compared the cost to the cost of moving somewhere else, we would be looking at very different cost estimates than what we have. Consultants cater to the client, and in this case it’s the selectmen (two of them anyway) and the consultants know they want to move to a new building. Forgive me for being cynical about how this has been handled, but I’m not surprised.
It seems clear that the minority is trying to stack the deck in favor of abandoning the existing town hall. When do the people get the chance to be heard? I for one favor keeping the offices where they are now.
Again I’m amazed at how the good people of Freedom love to spend money. How much did all these consultants cost? The town has already taken our tax money to purchase land (not to build anything) and now some local consultants are cashing in on our tax dollars. Article 26 would have been relevant before the funding for the property was taken from our tax dollars. And if I read the the above article correctly, most of the people at the meeting would be willing to pay more to keep the offices at the same sight?
Wouldn’t it make sense that the people behind Article 26 admit that they are years late in the debate for spending, already collected, tax revenue and perhaps focus their energy on limiting the money spent for a municipal structure/upgrade, that’s something I could put my support behind?
From last year’s meeting, before Article 26, I thought there was land for sale in the village.
Does anyone know if that property is no longer available?
From a Freedom second home owner superintendent working for a large design build general contractor “looking in from the outside”, the town may spend much more than 10% upgrading the existing buildings bringing them up to code with new hvac, data, electrical, sewage, water, fire services that will be automatically done with a new building at a much easier / cost effective installation. It would be in Freedoms best interest to get an unbiased assessment of the cost comparison’s prefferably with a design build contractor of which they will get thier best bang for the buck.
As a member of the Article 26 Committee – and the one that wrongly got upset with one of our Selectmen and left the last meeting abruptly – it’s a shame that more people don’t know and understand the facts before commenting on these issues. The Town has not spent any money on the purchase of land in advance of making a decision; the Town has not spent a great deal of money on the consultant (from Newport, NH, not local), and the Committee and many concerned residents on all sides of the issue have spent almost 9 months to examine all of the options, from doing nothing, to building a new combined Fire, Police and Town Office at a new location, and everything in between. When we cross the finish line and ssub,it our recommendation to the Board of Selectmen, I’m confident that we will all be making a compromise, but while we don’t all agree, we understand the importance of looking at every viable option from both a financial aspect and community preservation perspective. If this was only about money, we would build everything new and abandon the old school house, but it’s not.
Is there some ulterior motive that Mr. Krebs wishes to move to the Lake Ossipee Rd site? Storming out of the meeting is not politically correct.
It appears that most of the town’s residents and the remainder of the selectmen favor keeping the “services” center in Freedom. I am in favor of this.
Paul W.H. Tung, MD:
No, I have no ulterior motive – I’m not a Selectman, and have been off of the Board for +-3 years. And you are right – storming out of a meeting is not correct, and I have apologized publicly and privately to many people (see post above yours). Since I live only a short distance from the proposed location on Ossipee Lake Road, I would be more inclined to NOT want it there, closer to my home. I don’t think any of the Selectmen have publicly stated what their individual preferences are with the exception of Les Babb, who is on the Committee and (I believe) is leaning towards a combined new building at the current Fire Station site. However, in the end it will be the residents of the Town of Freedom that will make this decision, and we will all live with it, whether we agree initially or not. What has always made Freedom such a wonderful place is the people that call our Town home – and while we don’t always agree with our neighbors on all issues, it seems that we are able to resolve our differences and move forward in a positive direction. Whether I remain involved in this process or not, I’m confident that the Article 26 Committee, the Board of Selectmen and the registered voters of Freedom will make the decision that is best for Freedom.
I believe you own land on Ossipee Lake Road. Were you suggesting that your land be used for a new facility? Or were you in favor of using some of the town forest?
I do not own land on Ossipee Lake Road – the ONLY parcel of land that was being considered for purchase was a portion of Elizabeth Priebe’s land on the corner of Route 153 and Ossipee Lake Road. The only property I own in Freedom is my home on Sherwood Forest Road (1 acre). Since last night’s meeting, the Ossipee Lake Road site is no longer being considered by the Article 26 Committee.
Lastly, the Town Forest (which was acquired while I was a Selectman) is 100% encumbered by a conservation easement that does not allow any building or development on it, aside from kiosks to display information about the property. This property was never considered for that reason.