Georgetown officials learned last week that it could cost as much as $1.7 million to renovate Town Hall and convert the building next door into municipal offices.
But it still remains to be seen when, or even if, voters will be asked to approve a referendum town official say will be required to fund the project.
"I don't know that we have a time set for when to move forward," Georgetown Mayor Mike Wyatt said this week. "But it's definitely needed because (Town Hall) is old, it's full of asbestos and the roof leaks."
The 92-year-old former bank building at 39 The Circle has served as Georgetown's Town Hall since the 1960s.
Town Manager Gene Dvornick said the building is showing its age through worsening structural issues, mostly resulting from water damage.
Trusses that hold up the roof, for instance, have decayed to the point that they are no longer anchored into the building's framework, creating a serious threat of roof collapse.
The floors in the 2,750-square-foot building also are warped in several areas with bows as deep as six inches.
Town Manager Gene Dvornick said a survey of the building conducted in 2011 also detected the presence of mold behind some of the walls.
"There used to be copper rain spouts in each of building's four corners that over time began to leak," he said. "We knew there was water damage from that, until we had a survey done following (the 2011 earthquake), no one knew just how serious the problems were."
Last summer, the town the town paid to have the first-floor of the building stabilized until long-term corrective work could be completed.
New structural surveys also were undertaken to determine the extent of the work that would be required.
Officials with the Milford-based architectural and engineering firm Davis Bowen & Friedel Inc. presented town council with their preliminary cost estimates on Feb. 27.
The project, as currently designed, would involve first gutting and remodeling the former McCann Professional Building next door and then relocating town offices there while town hall undergoes stabilization. The town purchased the 5,240-square-foot office building at a 2009 foreclosure sale for about $300,000, Dvornick said.
Most town offices would remain in that building, while a renovated Town Hall would continue to function as the chambers of town council, the town planning commission and other public bodies.
Work on the so-called Annex Building would cost roughly $728,000, according to the latest cost estimates.
Following completion of that project, contractors would then turn their attention to completing asbestos abatement at Town Hall, followed by the construction of a new roof, an interior remodeling and upgrades to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. That portion of the project is estimated to cost $315,000.
Page 2 of 2 - Another $70,000 would be spent on additional site work, such as a new sidewalk, flag pole and fencing.
Administrative, architectural, engineering, permitting and mobilization costs would add another $587,000 to the price tag, a figure that also would include more than $222,000 in contingency funds, according to Erik Retzlaff, an associate with Davis Bowen & Friedel.
"I don't believe it will cost (as much as the $1.7 million estimate), but you don't want to get started down this path and have to stop because you've run out of funding," he told council. "It's better to get permission to borrow that much and if you don't use it, you can give it back."
Retzlaff said it is hard to give a more exact cost estimate because there's no way to know the extent of the work that will be needed at Town Hall until the demolition process has begun.
Town Coucilwoman Linda Dennis said she has conflicting feelings about the proposed project, especially considering that the town is already paying the annual debt service on $14 million in outstanding loans.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this is needed, especially for our town employees who right now are subjected to totally inadequate conditions in this building," she said. "But this is a significant investment at a time when the economy is uncertain. If (a referendum) is going to have a reasonable chance of people voting for it, we need to address some of the issues that are going to be raised very directly."
Dennis said one of those issue voters will likely raise is the cost of the renovation project compared to the cost of new construction elsewhere in town.
Wyatt said he believes keeping Town Hall on The Circle is a priority for most Georgetown residents.
"Everybody I've talked to says the town needs to keep a presence there," he said. "If we move somewhere else, I think it's going to be a greater inconvenience to the people of Georgetown than the cost of the renovations."