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.