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Design choice for new Durham Town Hall expected Monday night

Union Leader Correspondent

May 19. 2013 7:06PM

DURHAM - The Town Council will make a determination on a final design for the new Town Hall Monday night.

An original design presented to the Historic District Commission in early April received strong opposition, leading AG Architects to go back to the drawing board.

No fewer than 19 designs were presented to the public during a hearing on April 25, and the pool was narrowed down to three designs, all very similar in style.

The town recently closed on the People's United Bank property across Route 108 from the current town hall for the new facility. The current town hall building is undersized and is not handicapped accessible.

The new building will feature a larger council room and additional conference room space, will be fully accessible and have bathrooms for the public.

Funding for the project is coming through the sale of the existing town property and the subsequent tax benefit from the redevelopment.

Scott Mitchell, owner of the adjacent Irving Gas Station, has already entered into a purchase and sales agreement with the town for the current town hall property at a price of about $1.2 million, and plans to redevelop it as a pharmacy.

The total approved budget for the new town hall project is $2,078,700, including the purchase price of the People's United Bank property which was $745,000, leaving $1,333,700 to work with for design, engineering and construction of the new town hall.

Option "J" seemed to be the most favored design by residents at April's forum, but would add about $50,000 to the cost to include a higher roof to accommodate a new elevator.
Option "C" adds $180,000 to make the entire building two stories, instead of just the existing portion.

Option "M" is within budget but features a shaft sticking out above the main building to accommodate the elevator, a design aspect residents at the public forum found unappealing.

Residents also disliked other decorative elements, including the existing chimneys and a decorative window on the new addition.

On Monday, it will be up to the town council to decide on a design option, and whether they are willing to spend any money above the approved budget for the project.

Durham Administrator Todd Selig said there are also other choices the council will have to consider, including adding insulation to the building, which is a higher upfront cost, and whether or not to replace the existing furnace, which is original to the 1980s building, but still working.

Selig said the council has not decided if they will go after Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, but said LEED criteria was utilized to guide the process.

Once the town council agrees on a design, the town will go back to the Historic District Commission for submission and acceptance at the June meeting, and then the HDC will likely schedule a public hearing on the application for their July meeting.

Selig said they hope to break ground on the project in August. The expectation would be for town offices to move into the new building by early spring 2014.

The sale of the existing town hall was done contingent upon the town acquiring, redeveloping and moving into the new building.

"It is a pretty unique project in that we're working to leverage the project through redevelopment and existing resources rather than asking the taxpayers to pay for it," Selig said.

He said the new building will serve the town's needs for at least the next 30 years.

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