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Hartford Looks To Rehab Municipal Building

As time goes on, the Hartford Muncipal Building grows older, and so too does the Municipal Building renovation project.

Now, after about a decade of on-and-off discussions, a slim majority Selectboard members has endorsed an ambitious timeline for action.Work, they say, needs to be done soon to avoid a more expensive fix down the road.

“We (would) have to replace it piecemeal,” Selectman Simon Dennis said of the building, “it’s going to end up being more expensive.”

During a meeting earlier this week, a divided Selectboard narrowly voted to form a committee to review previous renovation proposals and to develop a new proposal to put before voters at Town Meeting in March.

The committee, which will be made up of five members of the public and one or two Selectboard representatives, will likely be chosen next Tuesday, said Dennis . As of Wednesday , Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker said two applications for appointments have been received.

By Dec. 15, the committee is meant to formulate the language for a bond issue, which is the process by which the town would borrow the money for the project. If voters approve the bond, the same committee would work with an architect to present a final project to the Selectboard .

On Tuesday, some of the Selectboard members were concerned that the timeline to have a proposal ready for Town Meeting was too compressed.

Sam Romano and Alex DeFelice joined Parker in voting against the committee. Dennis, Vice Chairman F.X. Flinn, Bethany Fleishman and Sonia Knight voted in the affirmative.

“This can get done,” Dennis said. “There’s a push to form this committee.”

Parker said that the amount of work will be “monumental” for the time allotted. He voted against forming the committee because he wanted something on a smaller scale to address some of the most pressing problems to happen sooner, he said. And he’s not sure the committee will finish all its duties on time, even if enough worthy applicants apply before the next Selectboard meeting.

“I’m hopeful that they will,” he said. “I’m not optimistic that they will. I think they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.”

The Municipal Building, which was built in 1884, hasn’t been renovated since the mid-1950s aside from a wiring job done about two decades ago.

Over time, a host of problems with the building have developed. For instance, the bathrooms aren’t up to code, and there’s no elevator, preventing handicap access to the second floor. The north wall is shifting; there are soft spots in the floors; and the roof leaks. Bugs and rodents — and an occasional bat — have been know to make appearances.

Pat Stark, a records and information specialist in Lister’s Office, said the building’s brick walls provide little insulation and cold air easily pushes through the old window frames.

“When people come into our municipal building, I don’t think that shows our town off very well,” Flinn said. “And I also know that it has an impact on people who work in that building. It’s not a very comfortable or enjoyable environment to be in.”

The board members who voted against the motion worried that there simply isn’t enough time to analyze previous work and come up with new ideas, especially as deadlines loom.

“Instead of relying on work that’s been done, there’s a tendency to want to step back and make sure the process is proper, and this has happened and that has happened,” Parker said. “And it’s delaying us getting some relatively routine things taken care of.”

In 2009, voters turned down a proposal to borrow ups to $4.7 million bond to either renovate or replace the building.

Flinn, who said he voted against the bond that year, said that proposal’s downfall was communication with voters — it seemed that all options hadn’t been explored, he said. Plus, the economy did tank several months earlier and another bond issue — for a water and sewer project — was on the ballot.

So the question is, come March, with the economy likely to still be uneven and another bond issue already on the ballot — this time for $8.85 million to revitalize several of Hartford’s recreational facilities — can the Municipal Building renovations win voter approval — assuming, of course, the bond issue is drafted in time?

According to Dennis, it’s a situation that “has us all scratching our heads a little bit.”

“This is certainly a time when people are very careful with what they’re going to approve,” Parker said. “And there may be a tipping point beyond which they say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.