Select Board seeks cost estimate to connect Phase 2 addition to Hildreth House

The Select Board decided this week to move ahead with its quest for a cost estimate of the work required to connect Hildreth House with its proposed new addition. While the Council on Aging and the Phase 2 Subcommittee, which has worked with DAI architects on the addition’s schematic design, are happy with the current plan to keep the two buildings separate, the board wants at least to know the cost of connecting them.

At its Nov. 5 meeting, the board directed Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro to ask DAI for an estimate to design an enclosed, heated connection between Hildreth House and the proposed addition, to determine what code compliance issues that connector would trigger in Hildreth House, and to determine how much the connector would add to the existing design’s $4.3 million estimate.

At the heart of the issue is code compliance. Hildreth House is currently code compliant, but if its size increases by just a few hundred square feet, it will enter a new level of building code requirements that would include sprinklers and possible seismic code upgrades. To avoid incurring the cost of those changes, the subcommittee told DAI not to connect the addition to the existing building. But the Select Board was not happy when it heard about that constraint, and wants more information before dismissing the idea, arguing that questions about the lack of connection will come up at Town Meeting in the spring when funding the project is scheduled to be on the warrant.

DAI did design a connecting walkway between the back of Hildreth House and the west side of the planned addition at the request of the Permanent Building Committee (PBC). Tasked with designing something that would not trigger code upgrades, DAI Vice President Tom Lam came up with an open walkway with a roof, screens, and plastic sheeting for winter protection, which would not trigger upgrades as long as it had a firewall. The firewall would be a concrete, free-standing structure with a door, extending 18 inches on both sides of the walkway and 18 inches above the roof. He added that enclosing the connector would trigger code upgrades, regardless of the existence of a firewall. The estimate for the connector was about $80,000, and as members questioned how frequently seniors would actually travel between the two buildings, they agreed that the cost outweighed the benefit. Lam said it could be included as an “add alternate” or built as a separate project.

Although parking concerns were raised by both the Select Board and the PBC at previous meetings, the board did not include additional parking in the scope of work it is asking DAI to do. Council on Aging (COA) alternate and Phase 2 Subcommittee member Connie Larrabee addressed parking in a statement she read during public comment, saying the current parking has been sufficient for events that draw 50 to 60 people, because seniors carpool or use the two town vans. She added that, for larger events, overflow parking could be arranged at other lots in town, and the COA vans could be used to shuttle people back and forth. And she reminded the board that during the Phase 1 renovation, when she was a member of the building committee, accommodating the drainage problems created by leveling and repaving the existing parking areas was “torturous.”

The board invited Larrabee to the table at the end of the Phase 2 discussion, where she expressed skepticism about its plan to investigate the connector. “I know how hard it is to get something like this passed when you’re confident in it and there are no questions,” she said. Von Loesecke assured her that the board was only asking for an estimate for a covered, heated walkway, what code upgrades that walkway would trigger, and what the costs for the walkway and upgrades would be. “So you’re not talking about moving the addition to the rear of the building anymore?” Larrabee asked, referring to remarks von Loesecke made at a previous meeting. Von Loesecke said, “We’re not asking for that.”

Phase 2 Subcommittee Chair Guy Oliva was also invited to the table, where he suggested that the connector could be put forth as a separate project at a future town meeting. Von Loesecke agreed and said it could also be a separate article at 2020 Town Meeting, where voters could decide if it was worth the extra expense. She promised that the board would work with the subcommittee and the COA to determine the best path forward once the connector price is available.

The Capital Planning and Investment Committee (CPIC) is currently reviewing the Phase 2 project as designed, and its recommendation will be finalized by Dec. 17, according to Town Administrator Tim Bragan. He suggested that the connector price should be known by early January, because the deadline to complete money articles for the spring warrant is mid-January.

There is no money in the existing contract with DAI for additional design work, but Sobalvarro said DAI should have an estimate for that work by the next Select Board meeting on Nov. 19. If the board decides to move ahead with the design for the enclosed connector, it will have to find a funding source.

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