Until last year, the Historical District Commission (HDC) was an uncontroversial board that rarely met. When it did meet, it was usually to approve the color of paint on a house in the district. It’s safe to say that the HDC and at least some of its former and present members are no longer uncontroversial.
The controversy began when the select board attempted to seek from the Historical District Commission the necessary certificate to demolish Aldrich Hall. Town meeting had appropriated $50,000 to demolish Aldrich Hall in March, 2013, and Selectman Lou Barry applied for a certificate of appropriateness to have the building demolished. Our first application was not addressed within in the required period of time, and a certificate of hardship should have been issued. (A former HDC member now says it was never received. The law says differently, but we’ve been trying to avoid a costly court case). Nonetheless, we tried to work with the HDC, though we balked at hiring a structural engineer to review the building as too expensive and unnecssary. Moreover, neither the bylaws or state laws allow an HDC to make up its own requirements. Our building inspector Don Demers declared the building unfit. His successor Russ Ducharme finally suggested a survey board as per MGL Chapter143 Section 8. On 17 November 2014, the Select Board then commissioned a Survey Board to review and report on building code related items for Aldrich Hall. The purpose of rendering unbiased technical and regulatory opinions on selected Town properties. Their report can be hard to read–there’s lots of technical language and references to the building code–but the conclusions can be easily understood with a modicum of common sense: Aldrich Hall is not worth bringing up to code.
To bring the building up to code, the building would need to be stripped to its wood frame skeleton. That’s it. Roof, shingles, floors would all need to be removed. Why? Because of building codes. Even historical buildings have to meet building codes if they are going to be used. If they are going to be used for meetings, they have to meet a certain code. If they are going to be used for offices, they have to meet a certain code. A few years ago, we vacated the building because it was structurally unsound and quite probably unhealthy. The building was never meant to be used as town offices. In our typically frugal fashion, Granby used it for a senior center and then for town offices. We probably should not have done so. The well water was undrinkable because it failed the monthly, mandatory state tests for water quality. There were frequent problems with vermin because much of the foundation was made of piled up rocks. The foundation also caused moisture problems and caused mold. The first floor was supported by several floor jacks because the beams in the cellar were not meant to support the loads of modern working offices.
I don’t know what the cost of a new house is these days, but I don’t think $150 per square foot is exorbitant. The survey board estimated the cost of renovating Aldrich Hall to be $ 150 to $200/sqft. Multiplied by the building’s 3,000 square feet, the base cost of renovations is $450,000 to $600,000. It is expected that water supply permitting and construction, and a DEP compliant on-site sewage disposal system would add another $100,000 to the project. Architectural and engineering design fees add another 7% to 14% Altogether, expect total project costs top range from $590,000 to $800,000. Not priced into these costs is hazardous materials mitigation and whatever exigencies turn up in the deconstruction and reconstruction. Even rehabbed, the building would serve little purpose for the town. A footprint of 1500 square feet doesn’t serve many municipal purposes when you subtract footage for bathrooms, hallways, and closets. Double that footprint for a second floor, and there’s still not much you can do.
The local media have picked up on the Aldrich Hall controversy. That’s why I’m writing this post. The Springfield Republican has had some stories, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette is working on a story for later this week. Last week, The Belchertown Sentinel had an uncharacteristically strong editorial condemning the HDC’s interference with the construction of the planned Veteran’s Memorial. This controversy is bound to linger for a while, so I’d thought I update what’s happening. I’ve left out some of the side-controversies, but there’s not enough time to cover all of those. Even in a town like Granby.
ARTICLE 3. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $50,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of demolishing Aldrich Hall and garage, or take any other action in regards thereto.