|Framingham: Committee calls for $25M project to rebuild town hall||May 5, 2016|
|Jim Haddadin 617-863-7144||Framingham Tab|
FRAMINGHAM - A new report on the town's capital needs recommends razing the Danforth Building and reconstructing town hall as part of a 10-year plan that would dramatically reshape downtown.
The report, released this week by a "blue ribbon" committee assembled by the town manager, calls for a period of "major" investment in the town's facilities to address years of deferred maintenance. Among its top priorities is the Memorial Building at 150 Concord St., which has served as the seat of government in Framingham for nearly a century. With the structure in need of costly repairs, the committee recommended launching a $25 million project to demolish and replace the wings, which house office space for a range of town departments.
"In one word, the building is substandard," Committee Chairman Michael Grilli said Tuesday during a presentation before the Board of Selectmen.
The committee recommends saving only Veterans Hall and the stately facade on the south side of the building from the wrecking ball. Nevins Hall, the large auditorium inside the building, would also be replaced with a smaller assembly space.
"Our proposal is that we forsake this building and demolish (it)," Grilli said, "keeping the historic and memorial piece in the front."
A previous study determined the Memorial Building is currently in "poor" to "fair" condition. It faces an estimated $7 million in urgent repairs, including work to seal the building's exterior, fix crumbling masonry, repair the roof and upgrade certain areas to make them accessible for people with disabilities.
In all, a comprehensive rehabilitation project would cost $30 million to $35 million, Town Manager Robert Halpin said. By contrast, Halpin said new construction would likely cost less, and would allow the town to shrink the building's footprint. Rehabbing the building would also fail to address the need for an estimated 13,000 square feet of additional office space, he said.
"Either way you look at this, there's a big price tag," Halpin said. "This is kind of the (corner) we have backed ourselves into."
In studying the town's building needs, the committee was asked to prioritize keeping municipal offices downtown and preserving the Memorial Building as a center of "civic, cultural and governmental activity." The group was also tasked with studying options for the Danforth Building, Pearl Street Garage, Village Hall and Athenaeum Hall.
The town also faces an urgent need to replace the Saxonville fire station, which was built in the 1890s and is reaching the point of being functionally obsolete. Officials say its engine bay floor isn't large enough or sturdy enough to support modern firefighting equipment.
Town officials hope to offer a proposal at the spring 2017 Town Meeting to design and build a new station in a different location. The committee proposes completing the project by 2020 at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.
The group's report calls for tearing down the Danforth Building, which it deemed "more of a liability to the town than an asset." It proposes redeveloping the property by 2022 into parking for police, municipal offices and the library. The committee estimates the site could support as many as 200 spaces. Alternatively, it could be sold to a private developer and proceeds could be used to create municipal parking elsewhere downtown.
Razing the building would require the current occupants, Danforth Art and the MetroWest Performing Art Center, to vacate - an eventuality for which both groups have planned. The report also proposes relocating the Boys & Girls Clubs of MetroWest into the former St. Stephen School.
The committee recommends preserving and improving some other buildings, including Village Hall, which is pegged for a $1.8 million overhaul. The report recommends carrying out a $5 million project to shore up and repurpose the Athenaeum and Fire Station 2, potentially tapping Community Preservation Act money or historic preservation tax credits to offset the costs.
To pay for the remainder of the town's capital costs, the committee proposes tapping free cash and taking on additional debt, gradually increasing the town's debt burden ratio from 4.5 percent in the coming fiscal year to 5.0 percent by fiscal 2021.
The committee's calculation excludes debt from the Memorial Building project and a separate school building project being contemplated within the next several years, since both efforts will likely require residents to approve debt exclusions.
Town officials also hope to be reimbursed for a portion of the school project costs by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
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