By Keith Regan, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Selectmen will seek to keep plans to renovate the Forbes Municipal Building on its current schedule, with a proposal likely to go before voters at Town Meeting in April of 2016 – but the work will likely move forward without a recreation center, as originally envisioned.
Town Manager Jim Malloy April 14 laid out the financial implications of moving forward with the project and with a two-year delay. Although advancing the project would mean higher taxes for residents in two of the next 10 fiscal years, the project could be done without the town’s total debt exceeding 7 percent of the town’s levy limit.
“The good news is the town starts out in good financial shape,” Malloy said. “We can do it either way.”
The Forbes work is considered urgent because the towns’ police department facilities fall short of regulations in some areas. Police Chief Alan Gordon said the town could be exposed to more liability the longer it waits to make updates. The town had considered delaying the work when the Sarah W. Gibbons Middle School renovation project grew from its original scope of $10 million into a $27 million project, with the town picking up about $15 million.
Because expanding the police facilities will require the removal of a small gymnasium in the building that is heavily used by recreational basketball leagues, one solution considered had been construction of a stand-alone recreation center
But Selectmen Chair George Barrette said it makes sense to decouple the projects.
“If we keep them together, I don’t see it moving forward,” he said. “We need a police station five years, 10 years ago.”
The School Department, under new Superintendent Amber Bock, has expressed a willingness to work with the town on sharing facilities to accommodate the needs of the basketball programs.
A recreation center may make more sense if pushed out several years, when debt service payments on school buildings and the fire station and town hall projects begin to decline, Malloy said.
He noted that some communities have built combination senior center and recreation facilities.
The redevelopment of the Westborough State Hospital property could also offer opportunities for “some creative things we can do, in terms of development of these types of facilities,” said Barrette.
In response to a question from Selectman Lydia Goldblatt, Malloy said building a stand-alone police station would at least double the overall cost of the project, as the town would still be forced to renovate the Forbes building.
Keeping the project on schedule would likely push the average tax bill in Westborough over the $10,000 threshold one year earlier – in fiscal year 2021 instead of 2022.
Overall, annual tax increases over the next decade will average about 3.8 percent if the project stays on track and 3.6 percent if the project is held up for two years. But Malloy noted that waiting also brings cost risks, including inflation and possibly higher interest rates.
“Not much is gained in waiting two years,” he said.