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Dalton Select Board 'Taps Brakes' on Town Hall Renovation
By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff
09:02AM / Wednesday, June 22, 2022
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DALTON, Mass. — The Select Board has decided to reduce spending on the Town Hall renovation project and "revision" what it should look like. 
The board voted Tuesday to postpone Article 2 on next week's special town meeting warrant that would have authorized an additional $100,000 be added to the $500,000 Town Hall budget. The funds had been to accommodate the unexpected expenses.
"I'll move we make a motion that we minimize the scope of the Town Hall renovation to the asbestos removal required, and the closure of the third floor until future notice and engage in a visioning session down the road for what the future Town Hall may look like," said Chair Joseph Diver. 
A discussion on conducting a feasibility study and a visioning to determine to cost of improvements that go beyond asbestos abatement will be added to the agenda of a future meeting.
The decision was unanimously made after an hourlong discussion during which it was determined that it would be more cost-effective to carry on with the original renovation plan that would solely focus on abating the asbestos to make the building safe for employees and visitors.
Prior to this decision, the scope of the renovation had increased over the years to include structural restoration that would create more office space in the attic for storage or additional offices. 
It was then discovered that if the town were to go through with creating more office space, it would also be required to make the entire building accessible.
According to the state's Architectural Access Board, any project that involves either $100,000 or 30 percent of the building's value would trigger the requirement for accessible entry and exit. 
General maintenance and ongoing upkeep of the existing building would not trigger this requirement as long as the cost of the work does not exceed $500,000. 
"If we go by the scope of just the asbestos removal alteration work, which is limited solely to electrical, mechanical or plumbing systems to abatement of hazardous materials, or retrofit of the automatic sprinklers, and does not involve the alteration any elements or spaces required to be accessible under 521 CMR is an exception," Diver said.
"I think what [Finance Committee Chair William Drosehn is] suggesting is if the scope of work was just the asbestos removal itself, no other architectural changes in that space, it may qualify for that exception, which is that we're reducing the scope back to original." 
Making the building handicap accessible would entail building an elevator that, according to the Town Manager Tom Hutcheson, would have cost $500,000. 
To cover the cost of this additional expense, the town would be required to borrow from its "rainy day funds."
"My concern with this is, hearing the numbers now, we're contemplating taking roughly $350,000 from capital stabilization, and $350,000, from general stabilization to avoid borrowing and keeping in mind that both of those accounts are rainy day funds," Drosehn said. 
These additional costs and the uncertainty of what other issues may arise as the renovation continued led the board to decide to remove the asbestos and complete any work that would allow them to close off the third floor until there is more information on how much a complete renovation would cost. 
"I think we need to tap the brakes on this. We're opening up a can of worms here that obviously nobody can actually tell us what it's going to cost. That's my sense. No one really knows what this will ultimately cost if we proceed. No one really knows if we need an elevator or not. I don't hear many answers. And I don't think we should make decisions. If we can't get a complete picture of what we're actually facing," board member Daniel Esko said.
"I say do the absolute minimum to abate or encapsulate the asbestos. Hopefully, we don't trigger the need for an elevator. And we look into that and get a definitive answer whether we will or won't."
Esko wondered if the town should figure out a "Plan B" on either a complete renovation or a new location. 
"I'm not saying today, but I'm just saying 10 years down the line, do we want to keep sinking money into the building?" he said. "I don't know. I'm not in full support of just continued spending without an end in sight. That's what I can tell you. I'd rather protect the taxpayers' money and come up with a more sound plan."
The special town meeting will be on Monday, June 27, at 7 p.m. in the Wahconah Regional High School auditorium for the remaining two articles. 


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