How do you build a new town hall? One painstaking step at the time.
In Wendell’s case, that means making renovations to the current town hall, which is now 50 years old, in hopes the town can put off building a new facility for another decade.
That’s the path commissioners are following after a lengthy discussion Monday night over proposed improvements to the existing building.
But even that is a halting process for the town. Commissioners reviewed a recommendation from town manager Teresa Piner to spend $45,000 – less than half what the town budgeted for improvements to the facility this year – to enlarge a conference room and make use of the police disptatch area which was abandoned when the police department located to new facilities in 2013. The money would also pay for replacing light fixtures throughout the building and it would cover the cost of painting the outside of the brick building.
Most of the hesitancy came from Mayor Tim Hinnant, who questioned whether the town should pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into a building it hopes to leave in the next 10 years, or consider leasing space elsewhere in town.
“I think to spend this much money on a conference room and some aesthetic upgrades, and it wil not meet our needs in three years, much less carry us out through 10, I have concerns over what I’m looking at here,” Hinnant said.
Hinnant said if commissioners OK the plan, it will only be the first of several times the town will have to spend money on the existing building.
Piner’s proposal backs that up. Her proposal to spend just $45,000, anticipates the likely need of having to spend money to replace the heating and air conditioning system in the building. Her plan also calls for a second phase of renovations which would include altering the old courtroom, where commissioners meet, to house some offices. Currently the courtroom is only used about three times a month – including two town board meetings each month.
In addition to renovations in that space, the second phase of the building upgrades wold include more money for the heating and air conditioning sytem and new carpeting and chairs in the board room. There would also be about $4,000 included for alterations to the lobby of the courtroom, which is little more than an entryway right now.
“It’s time to move”
While Hinnant was calling for a methodical approach, some town commissioners were ready to move ahead.
Commissioner Sam Laughery wanted to approve the request Monday night – except for the plans to paint the outside of the building. “I think we all agree we need a bigger conference room... I see no reason not to go ahead with what’s proposed here as far as the light fixtures and the conference room,” Laughery said.
Commissioner Ginna Gray also endorsed the proposal.
“I’ve been on this board for five years and we’ve been talking about this the whole time. I think we do need to put a better foot forward. There have been times, I have been embarrased. I’ll just say it,” Gray said. We are not ready to build a $5-, 6-, 7-million building. We need to quit worrying about what ifs. It’s time to move,” Gray said.
Commissioner John Boyette said the town needs to start preparing for its long-term future needs “If the building is not big enough to hold the employees we have now and it’s going to be 10 years before we’re ready to move and it takes 5 years to build one, I don’t understand why it’s even a conversation. Interest rates are only going to go up. Construction costs are at an all-time low. If we need to do something in the meantime, we can always do what the school system does and put some trailers out back,” Boyette said.
Commissioners officially tabled the matter, but they directed Piner to seek bids on the project, which would have been her first step in the process had they approved her request.