BARNET — About 70 residents turned out last week to learn more about two different directions the town can go with creating more municipal office and community spaces: either renovate the historic McIndoe Falls Academy being offered to the town as a gift, or build new on land yet to be identified.
Town officials are looking for feedback so the select board can bring one of the options to a November vote.
Cynthia Stuart of Stuart Consulting oversaw Thursday night’s community meeting, the first of two public meetings planned about the project options including a financial analysis.
The second meeting is set for Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Barnet School.
The town has been looking at finding a building solution for five years, trying to find a space to replace the tight quarters at the Town Clerk’s office on Route 5.
Among the issues with the current location are a lack of community meeting space, handicap accessibility, security and privacy issues, cramped employee work spaces, mechanical access issues and more, said Stuart.
A town building committee has been working on the issue with the select board and has led to the two options now on the table for consideration.
Stuart noted, “The McIndoe Falls Academy renovation option allows the town to accept the gift of the historically significant building for adaptive re-use to serve as a town facility,” where an historical museum, the rent-paying U.S. post office, and library would also function, along with a large, second-floor community meeting space.
The nonprofit group which oversees the McIndoe Falls building, appraised at nearly $300,000, has sweetened its offer to also add a fund of about $100,000 to the town if it’s accepted — bringing the value of the gift to about $400,000, Stuart noted at Thursday’s event.
There are two estimates for renovating the McIndoe Falls Academy building, and the higher one is being used for the financial analysis, a $1,988,839 cost.
The new construction option is projected to cost an estimated $1,308,334.
Both options would have a Town of Barnet building reserve fund of $400,000 to use.
The information shared Thursday included tax rate calculations for 20- and 30-year borrowing for both scenarios on a $100,000 property, showing a 20-year note for McIndoe’s option would be $47.80 annually and for the same term for new construction, $27.33.
A 30-year note for the McIndoe’s option would be $37.98 and for the new construction, $21.71.
The McIndoe Falls Academy building is 7,240 square feet, while a new building would be 5,400 square feet, residents were told.
Citizen Questions, Input
Barnet resident Kathleen Monroe expressed frustration that questions residents have asked repeatedly are not being answered.
“That motivated me to become involved in attending meetings and seeking answers to questions,” she said. “The result? Lots more questions but answers were hard to come by. Square footages for the two projects didn’t match. Designs didn’t meet the needs assessment. Reasons given for why our current offices needed to be replaced didn’t make sense.”
Monroe said, “I spent many hours at the Town Clerk’s office doing research for another project. The number of people I would see over the course of several hours totaled four people in the building, including the clerk, sometimes the assistant and myself.”
“When I asked for an office traffic count, there was none,” said Monroe. “When I asked for the Fact Sheets the Building Committee said they would produce on each building, there were none. When I looked at towns of comparable size where the citizens had replaced or renovated, our ‘new building’ was way in excess of their square footage.”
At the meeting last week, town resident John Cook asked why the two options couldn’t both be put to voters in November, saying the 100 surveys returned are only a small representation of the voting base.
“Ask the people,” he said.
Stuart said most times, towns ask for a yes or no on one project — not to choose between two possible options.
Cook pressed for more details, and said toward the forum’s conclusion, “We can’t make choices when we don’t have facts.”
Town resident Ted Soares provided an alternative set of figures he distributed. He said he used the less costly of the two estimates to restore McIndoe Falls Academy, from a construction consultant rather than an architectural firm, and said his math shows the restoration versus new building to be much closer in costs.
“And you’re getting so much more with the McIndoe Falls project,” said Soares, whose figures show $1,496,357 for McIndoe Falls and $1,402,248 for the new building, which he factored in a $50,000 land cost for. He also built in the post office rental income of $1,010 a month over 30 years plus interest, and the McIndoe Academy trustees’ cash gift of $100,066.
There were questions about how good a fit the McIndoe Falls building is for the town’s need — whether there was enough space for the offices, and whether the upstairs space was maybe too big, yet not large enough for the annual meeting; there was also some nostalgia expressed over using the old school building, and preserving it for the town’s future.
Gail Warnaar, an innkeeper, said the McIndoe Falls Academy, built in 1853, is historic, and for that reason she would like to see the town consider creating the municipal building there. “It fits the architecture of the area,” she said, versus “putting up a cookie-cutter type modern building.”