SHREWSBURY – In an Aug. 31 episode of “Ask the Manager” with Donna O’Connor, Town Manager Kevin Mizikar discussed the lack of space at the Town Hall.
Shrewsbury’s Town Hall was last expanded in 1997. At the time, Shrewsbury had approximately 27,000 residents. Today, the town is nearing 40,000 community members, and the number of staff members and town services have grown. Yet the footprint of the municipal headquarters remains the same, Mizikar said.
In an interview with the Community Advocate, Mizikar weighed in on space issues at the Town Hall and whether an expansion project could be on the horizon.
“We’re really constrained for space here,” said Mizikar. “The Town Hall is definitely a critical need because it provides services and office space for not only just municipal operations, but also the School Department and SELCO at this time. All three aspects are confined by space.”
Town Hall has long been on the town’s list of possible infrastructure improvements.
First constructed in 1966, Town Hall has a 28,700-square-foot footprint that hasn’t been expanded in 26 years. In 2017, the second floor had minor renovations, but that work did not change the space’s overall square footage.
In 2019, the town reviewed the needs when it comes to space in the entire municipal campus, including Town Hall, the police station and the Senior Center. After the financial instability immediately following COVID-19 in 2020, the Select Board chose to focus on renovating the police station.
“The needs of the building have existed for quite some time. Once the library was completed and Maj. Howard W. Beal School was rebuilt, that’s when we turned the focus on other municipal operations,” said Mizikar.
With the construction of the police station now complete, Town Hall may be one of the next significant municipal infrastructure improvement projects the town pursues.
The town has taken measures to keep the building functional — meeting rooms have been converted into administrative offices, and the makeshift walls can be plainly seen by visitors. The building lacks storage, and community members encounter filing cabinets in the hallways. The Department of Public Works has the “highest density” area of the building, and its employees are crammed into close quarters.
“We’re over capacity in many of our office spaces,” said Mizikar.
The changes have affected employees’ daily lives, he said.
“We took what used to be our mail and copier room and converted that into space for the Information Technology Department. They used to be co-located with the building inspector, but that’s where the Planning Department is now,” said Mizikar.
He said that resources and space are often shuffled.
The building’s copying and mailing equipment are now located in the break room, leaving the Town Hall without a dedicated space for employees to have lunch.
“I do quite frequently hear the complaints of staff members who eat lunch in their car because [the break room is] not a dedicated space to take a break. An employee is going to come in and make a copy or get the mail. It’s just not conducive as a space for employee breaks,” he added.
All the previously mentioned changes — and more — have occurred in the last six years.
It’s too early in the process for any expansion specifics, said Mizikar. However, Mizikar has set one important goal regarding any potential expansion: keeping town resources together.
“I think one of the areas we’re trying to maintain is having the three key features of town operations — the municipal side, the school, and SELCO — all co-located. That’s been an extremely beneficial aspect of our operations… I think having all staff co-mingle within a single building provides a lot of benefits formally and informally,” said Mizikar.
While Mizikar said that “it’s not a failure if we’re not able to do that,” keeping everyone together is something the town will aim for when first developing and proposing plans.
The town’s space woes were discussed in August as SELCO weighed the potential of moving their operations into the Patrick Subaru building on Route 9. The move, which would’ve vacated roughly 4,000 square feet of space at Town Hall, ultimately fell through.
While the town has not yet taken any official steps forward, Mizikar said that any potential action would be thoughtful, well-communicated and visible to the public.
“We would engage with an architect, do some detailed drawings and get public feedback on it,” Mizikar told the Community Advocate. “We’d go back and forth, updating and maturing those designs, talking to the public. Ultimately, it would go to Town Meeting if we’re going to borrow to secure the funds for the project.”
“It will be a very public project,” he added.