By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – For the past six years, town officials have been assessing the state of three of the town's municipal buildings – the Town Hall, the Forbes Municipal Building (FMB) and the Fire Station. Now officials are preparing to ask voters to take the first step to approve just over $33 million dollars to renovate the three buildings at the March 17 Special Town Meeting (STM).
There are two articles on the STM warrant that address the aging infrastructure. Article 1 requests that voters approve funding for renovations of the Town Hall and FMB, and the construction of a new Community Recreation Facility. (Currently, there is a basketball court in the FMB. If the proposal to renovate the building passes, it would eliminate the court.)
According to Town Manager Jim Malloy, for the first year, which would be the highest, the debt service is estimated to be approximately $1,871,956 or $239 for the average single family home.
Article 2 is a request for $11,208,000 for design and construction of a new Fire Station. The first year, which would also be the highest, debt service is estimated to be approximately $952,680 or $122 for the average single family home.
Malloy said the Finance Committee is considering whether Article 1 (regarding the Town Hall and FMB) should be a debt exclusion. In that case, voter approval would not be required for a Proposition 2 ½ override. Article 2 (regarding the Fire Station) would require a Proposition 2 ½ override. Therefore, the article would need to pass at ATM and then via a ballot vote.
Malloy said it made sense to fund these projects now because construction costs are low and very competitive. With the town's bond ratings, interest rates are now in the 3-3.5 percent range.
No one is denying that the Town Hall, FMB and Fire station, built in 1928, 1924 and 1888 respectively, are in bad shape. At the Board of Selectmen's Feb. 28 meeting, a power point presentation by Malloy and architect Brian Humes showed picture after picture of the dismal conditions in all three buildings.
At the five-story Town Hall, there is limited access to the first floor, and the second and third floors are vacant due to disrepair and safety concerns, Malloy said. Parts of the roof and walls are “falling apart” and since the circa 1928 heating system does not work efficiently or reach all parts of the building, space heaters are used throughout the structure. Signs are also posted warning employees to use only one appliance at a time, due to circuit breaker problems.
The FMB has similar problems, Malloy said. The building, which is also home to the town's Police Department, has rotting wood, a leaking roof, an undersized generator and a 30-year old furnace. Fifteen structural cracks have been found throughout the building. An analysis has shown that the Police Department needs 16,070 square feet; they now have 6,900.
The Fire Station also has similar significant structural and electrical problems, Malloy said; in fact, there are many code violations. The building, at 14,000 square feet, is only half the size it should be. There is no elevator in the building and it has egress violations. Humes said an analysis has shown that it would not be practical or cost-effective to renovate the current Fire Station.
The STM will be held prior to the resumption of the March 17 ATM. The ATM starts at 1 p.m. and breaks at approximately 6 p.m. The STM will start at 7 p.m. and then the ATM will resume. For full reports of the buildings projects, go to http://www.town.westborough.ma.us/Public_Documents/index. (All photos/courtesy Town Manager Jim Malloy)