Within two years, Oak Bluffs may get a new town hall and a new fire station, if voters agree.
Architects unveiled concept plans for two capital building projects totaling more than $14 million at the town selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night. Town leaders hope to renovate or replace the town hall building on School street as well as construct a larger, more comprehensive fire and emergency services building on Wing Road.
Construction could begin as early as October of next year, if financial and political hurdles can be cleared. Work would proceed simultaneously on both projects and is expected to last 15 to 20 months. Both buildings would stay at their current sites.
Originally the plan was to renovate the existing town hall, which is the former elementary school. But Falmouth architect John Keenan told selectmen on Tuesday that a complete replacement of the building would be more cost effective. “As we went further along in the analysis of the existing building, it became apparent that the existing building needs more work than we thought,” he said. The foundation, which had originally appeared reusable, was found to be built using sand from the beach, Mr. Keenan said.
The new building would have the same footprint as the existing building, but would maximize square footage and group offices logically. When finished, the building would meet standards set by the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) group, Mr. Keenan said. The concept is for a characteristic Oak Bluffs style, Mr. Keenan said, with “the same look of an old building but done new.”
The firm’s Island portfolio includes the West Tisbury town hall, completed in 2008, and a current project to rebuild the West Tisbury fire station.
The plan for a new Oak Bluffs fire station would significantly expand the existing structure to almost 21,000 square feet, most of it dedicated to ambulance and fire truck bays. Due to its proximity to the hospital, the town handles the majority of off-Island ambulance runs, and needs a better building to support the equipment. Under the new plan, the current building would house the fire department, EMS and emergency management department, which has been run out of emergency director Peter Martell’s Wesley Hotel office since the department’s creation. The second floor of the building would include a training room for emergency operations, and the mass casualty incident (MCI) trailer, long housed in the parking area adjacent to the town library, would find a home in the first floor bays. A medical treatment center and decontamination area are also included in the first-floor plan.
“We are extremely happy,” said acting fire chief John Rose of the plan.
Town administrator Bob Whritenour assured selectmen that the multi-million dollar projects would not lead to a significant increase in taxes. “Our financial plan will incorporate these projects without having any major spikes or increases on the tax rate,” he said. “We view that as a major portion of the financial planning of the town is not just take making sure the operating budgets are balanced but also taking care of the capital needs that we have without having any major spikes in the tax rates.”
At a special town meeting on Nov. 12, voters will be asked to spend $239,150 for architectural plans for the new town hall, and $287,000 for fire station plans. If those articles are approved, voters can expect to see total spending requests for the projects at the annual town meeting in April.
Selectmen reviewed and cleared 15 articles to appear on the fall special town meeting warrant, pausing for discussion about medical marijuana dispensaries and a proposed blight prevention bylaw.
A planning board article asks voters to add a registered marijuana dispensary overlay district to the town zoning bylaws. The new town bylaw prohibiting blight in the business district is also a planning board article.
The bylaw would establish minimum maintenance requirements for buildings in the business zones, and mandate that building owners take care of their property even in periods of vacancy. But selectmen noted that the section lacks an enforcement plan. Selectman Gail Barmakian also questioned language that defines a seasonal use building which will not house the same business the following year as a vacant building. Mr. Whritenour defended the wording. “If somebody moves out and you don’t have anyone that is going to come in next year . . . all you have to do is inform the building department, that is the sum total of the burdensomeness of [registering a building as vacant],” he said. “You just can’t allow it to become dilapidated.”
The bylaw is modeled after a similar one adopted by the town of Bourne. “I think it needs a little work, but I don’t mind that being aired at town meeting,” said selectman Kathleen Burton.
In other business, selectmen learned that construction on the Oak Bluffs fishing pier, originally slated to finish this month, will not conclude until late November, due to delays in supplies, which are in high demand this time of year.