Thursday June 21, 2018
Voters will have some decisions to consider in the coming months. The August ballot will include the “Penny for Paths” bike/pedestrian connectivity tax initiative—estimated to bring in $300,000 each year for a ten year period to improve the city’s recreation paths. Also on voters’ minds will be an upcoming item on the November ballot: the proposal for a new civic building on Market Street which will house city hall, the community library, and a senior center.
City council hosted a special meeting with the library board of trustees June 11 to receive the latest updates on the proposal formally referred to as the “SoBu Spaces 2020 project.”
The proposed site sits on just over a half acre, east of the Allard Square senior housing building and south of the Rick Marcotte Central School. The building will abut a new road which will be built to lead to the school. The design team is led by Wiemann Lamphere Architects, a Colchester firm, as well as Humphries Poli, a Colorado firm which specializes in civic buildings.
The Process: In Review
Community workshops were held in January and March, from which the design team developed three different building design concepts. After collecting over 450 comments from the public, the team came back with “Alternative D,” which considered a hybrid of the most popular features from each of the three alternatives: the exterior character of Option B (Urban Oasis), the floor plan of Option C (Stepped Terraces – an adult collection on one floor and an open terrace), the inclusion of an auditorium, the children’s library on the first floor, and the desire to have fiction and non-fiction together.
In April, the concept morphed again to reflect the addition of a new senior center. The senior center will host a variety of program opportunities ranging from health and wellness programs as well as arts and leisure classes. Seniors will also have access to staging, state-of-the-art projection, and sound systems for special events, lectures, and performances. An attached caterer’s kitchen is also in the plans.
In reviewing several iterations of this proposed space, recurring questions about the parking configuration have been raised. Up until recently, not much was said about it, other than it was still being vetted. Specifically, the city had its eyes on land behind the proposed building—land owned by the school district at Rick Marcotte Central School.
The city’s request was not easily received by the school board in late March after the city had a recommended design already on the table. However, after a subcommittee was formed to evaluate the needs of both parties, the city council and school board came to an agreement with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at a joint special session on June 4.
The MOU grants the transfer of two pieces of Marcotte Central School property to the city for the purposes of building the new civic center and creating an easement for the future of Garden Street. The agreement includes 0.75 acres of district land needed by the city to move forward on the preferred design, and 0.1 acre to increase the turning radius on Garden Street for larger vehicles such as school buses and fire trucks. These conveyances are subject to voter approval.
In exchange, the school district has the option to lease the current city hall property for a rent of $10 per year with a minimum initial term of three years, which may be renewed for at least two consecutive renewal terms. The district also has the option to purchase the southerly portion of the city hall property for $10 following the expiration of the initial three-year term.
Option G: What’s Changed?
The project has now evolved into “Option G.”
Option G reflects the agreement with the school district, and allows for priority program spaces to be on the first floor, increasing the size of the senior center space and children’s library, parking and drop-off, connectivity between Mary Street and new development, access to Allard Square, and room for site utilities, explained Steve Roy, vice president of Weinmann Lamphere Architects.
The three story building totals 52,278 gross sq. ft., the largest being the first floor and the second and third will be progressively smaller. The first level includes a city clerk/welcome area, a library “living room,” equipped with comfortable seating and a fireplace, a children’s library and activity room, staff services, an auditorium for seating up to 100, a catering kitchen, and a senior center. The first level is 23,286 gross sq. ft.
The second level will accommodate fiction and nonfiction collections, a teen space, quiet study space, two meeting rooms for after-hours meeting spaces, larger multi-purpose spaces, Friends of the Library bookstore and meeting space, roof terraces on the south side of the building, and a skylight over the stairway. This will all account for 17,655 gross sq. ft.
The third level, with 11,337 gross sq. ft., will include meeting spaces, the city manager’s offices, Planning and Zoning department, city staff break area and support spaces, and options for some roof terraces.
“What is the plan for the parking for this building?” asked Jay Pasckow, member of the library board of trustees. He cited his concerns about having enough parking for growing staff as well as patrons, even with the recently-negotiated space behind the building from the school.
We’re working on an alternative parking arrangement primarily for staff and patrons that will be very convenient. We’re not ready to announce it yet,” City Manager Kevin Dorn answered. He said the lease was not yet in place. “We should be ready to announce the agreement by the end of summer—well before anyone votes on it.”
Staff numbers are still being worked through, as a decision has not yet been made about whether Recreation and Parks will move to the new space.
“There’s also parallel parking on both side of the access road [Market Street],” added Council Chair Helen Riehle.
The city is also in the process of working with the school to include plans for busing and additional parking on the east side.
“Our expectation is that there will be more parking spaces,” Riehle said.
The project team will continue working on developing the design and will have it completed before early voting.
Engelberth Construction has been hired as the Project Manager. Construction documents will be prepared for March/bidding, and, hinging on voter approval, construction will start in April 2019 with a grand opening in May 2020.
As for cost, thirty percent of the library and ten percent of the city hall project costs are eligible for Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Tax Increment Financing is a local economic development tool used to leverage new property taxes generated by specific projects in a specified area or district.
The city also established an annual contribution to reserve funds to finance this project through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
A cost estimate for the whole project is scheduled to be presented in mid-July.
Another meeting has been scheduled with councilors, library board members and city staff for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 25 at City Hall. The work session is intended to address questions about the process and to delve deeper into the details of the proposal. The meeting is open to the public.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent