Differing approaches to new town hall in Fenwick

Two very different approaches to updating Fenwick Island’s town hall were raised at a Nov. 8 meeting of an advisory group on the issue.

Committee members were presented with revised scratch drawings from Michael Bouman of Davis, Bowen and Friedel (DBF) of what a new town hall might look like, based on discussions with town staff on their space needs and a list of requirements from town officials.

But Council Member Harry Haon, who had missed the previous meeting, said he believed the approach was all wrong. The town shouldn’t be looking at a wish-list for uses without considering the existing site and buildings, he said. It should instead be looking at what the maximum use of the existing site might be — what the town could do to maximize it with the minimum expenditure.

Mayor Peter Frederick and Council Member Audrey Serio both said repeatedly that issues Haon contested had previously been decided by a consensus of the group, but Haon asserted his role as opposition, insisting he’d like to see a comparison of the two approaches and, finally, suggesting a third idea.

The original approach of the committee was to preserve the existing town hall meeting room, with its high ceilings and distinctive triangular windows in the eaves. The remaining portions of town hall would be razed and a new section built with a two-story structure, including an elevator for access.

Reconfigured and expanded office spaces would be targeted at serving the town for at least the next 25 to 30 years, with allowances made for police processing and holding areas and a separate that are currently a serious lack in the town hall building.

The biggest concern about the project has remained its affect on parking, which is already in short supply. Bouman’s revised drawings included a relocated town park, moved from the northeast corner of town property to the east side to maximize parking while allowing for a footprint expansion.

There, Haon — chairman of the committee that created the town’s beloved new park — took exception, saying he felt the park should be left where, and as, it is. And he championed downscaling the new structure as well, proposing instead that the minimal needs of the town be met with a single-story structure joined to the existing meeting room and only slightly expanded.

The other council members opposed the idea, saying it wouldn’t allow the kind of space the survey of town personnel had shown they really needed, nor did they think it would save much money..

The items on the list for inclusion in the new building include a larger vestibule, town manager’s office (to accommodate an expected move to have such a position), larger building official’s office, additional storage, break room, expanded police station, police conference/interview area and locker rooms, a committee conference room/council office, a multi-use/storage room, beach patrol office and a mechanical room that could accommodate an emergency generator.

Each of the rooms had been designed by Bouman to meet a standard for use according to accepted standards of space and ergonomics. What remained was to finalize those dimensions, assemble the whole in the desired fashion and site the resulting building on the existing property.

Haon wanted that plan taken back to the drawing board, however.

And when the others remained opposed to the idea, he proposed a third option: scrap expansion of the existing police department and instead focus on expanding the existing public works building as much as possible – likely to house a new police department. From there, the existing town hall building could be expanded just slightly and renovated on a single floor, to include as much office space and storage as possible.

And, while he questioned any need for a larger vestibule, he also bemoaned the addition of smaller conference rooms to take the place of the existing multi-use meeting room, recalling how many people had met there over the years for various purposes. The number of conference areas should be scaled back, he said. Three (including the multi-use/storage room) was decidedly overkill.

After nearly three hours of back-and-forth on the approach to be taken toward the renovations, the committee agreed to task Bouman with a series of revisions that would reflect each of the concepts, for comparison purposes:

1) Raze town hall, except for the meeting room, and rebuild the razed portion as a two-story wing with all of the desired spaces accommodated;

2) Expand the public works building’s three bays to four, adding a second story to the two smaller existing bays and the new fourth bay, for likely use as a police department, while minimally expanding the existing town hall building to make up the space needed according to their survey of personnel;

3) Examine the potential to add a second story to the existing meeting room while retaining its high ceilings, and thereby minimize any footprint expansion of the existing building that would be needed to meet that same set of space parameters.

On that last point, Frederick was insistent. The ideas should be compared apples-to-apples, with the common denominator being the space requirements that had been developed with the staff and council members in mind.

That could mean the scrapping of most of the work done on the loose design plans thus far, but it will present the committee and town council with three clear options from which to proceed on a firm design plan.

From there, council would aim for a referendum on the general concept of a new town hall, before proceeding to bid on architecture and construction to match the loose concept Bouman will produce. Any funding commitment from the town will require an additional, binding referendum.

Thus, what was initially a review of Bouman’s revised plan to help decide whether such items as a two-stall restroom, separate police conference room or multi-use room were needed took the committee back nearly to square one.