WOLFEBORO — The Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 during its last meeting before Christmas to recommend to the budget committee a $4 million bond warrant article for a scaled back renovation of Brewster Memorial Hall, which serves as Wolfeboro’s Town Hall.
Board of Selectmen Chair Sarah Silk, Vice Chair Linda Murray, and member Dave Bowers voted in favor of the bond, with members David Senecal and Brad Harriman voting against.
More than a dozen residents, most of which are members of the Friends of the Wolfeboro Town Hall (www.wolfeborotownhallfriends.org), spoke in favor of the proposal, with one resident speaking against it. The Friends group, a certified 501c-3 nonprofit organization formed in 2007, has raised more than $730,000 in grants, donations and pledges in a public-private partnership with the town to assist in covering renovation costs to the historic structure, built in the late 1800s and sold to the town for $1 in 2004 from the Brewster trust.
Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall Chair Joyce Davis spoke at the Dec. 18 public hearing on the bond request. If approved, $110,000 in an existing capital reserve account for Town Hall repairs, plus the Friends’ donations of more than $736,690 from individuals, businesses, grants and foundations, would be applied to renovations of the first floor, second floor great hall, and exterior, with the town bonding approximately $3.1 million.
Six years ago, a warrant article requesting $6.7 million to renovate Town Hall failed to receive the required three-fifths majority vote. Davis said this scaled back plan has a lot of support.
“After six years, we believe we have finally got it right,” she told the board. “The Friends was set up to form a strong, public-private partnership to rehabilitate town hall. There have been many improvements over the past few years … but we believe its time to do more,” she said. “The Friends kicked into high gear this year and our efforts yielded $736,690 — and gifts and pledges continue to come in every day.”
Town Planning Director Rob Houseman reviewed the scope of the renovations that include exterior repairs, replacement windows for the second and third floors, reconfiguring the existing four town hall entrances into a single access way, renovated interior office space, updated heating and electrical systems, handicapped accessible bathrooms, and a renovated great room on the second floor with stage.
In all, 16 residents spoke in favor of the bond request, known as Warrant Article C, including Paula Garvey, Bill Swaffield, Judy Breuninger, Blair Moffett, Gary Baker, Maggie Steer, Vaughn Dugan, Andrea Dudley, Susan Goodwin, Roger Murray, Peter Goodwin and Richard Massey.
Many highlighted the need in town for a community space like the town hall’s great room that would offer space and a stage for concerts, dancing, meetings and more.
“Now is the time to do it,” said Judy Breuninger, adding that the only thing the town offers young people in town is eating and drinking establishments.
“One of the things we’re missing is a great hall. The sidewalks roll up after the stores close,” added Vaughn Dugan.
“This hall is a beautiful piece of architecture and we have the opportunity here to bring life back into the community,” she added.
Maggie Steer, who works for the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, said the town hall was placed on its “Seven to Save” list in 2009. She said the collaboration between the Friends and the town is “remarkable.”
Resident Bob Lemaire opposed the warrant article, describing it as an “all or nothing” approach to dealing with town hall. He noted that in the town of Wakefield, residents formed a citizens group to raise money to fix the second floor Opera House, an ongoing effort that does not burden taxpayers.
After the public hearing portion of the meeting closed, Board of Selectmen member Brad Harriman congratulated the Friends group for their efforts but said he does not support bonding more than $3 million all at once.
“I believe the town hall should stay where it is, but I don’t believe (the repairs) should be done all at once,” he said, adding that he favors a phased-in approach where the exterior repairs are done first, with office renovations performed afterwards.
Board of Selectmen member David Senecal, who also voted against the motion to recommend the warrant article, said, “I still think the price tag is too much.” He also criticized the sizable contingency fund — $379,000 — included in the renovation budget.
Board of Selectmen member Dave Bowers said he wholeheartedly supported the proposal and that with bond rates so low, the timing is right.