BELMONT — The Budget Committee last night unanimously blessed a warrant article that would authorized the town to borrow up to $3,357,250 to repair and renovate the historic Belmont Mill for use as town offices.
The vote came after construction manager Keith McBey of Bonnette, Page and Stone Co. of Laconia explained the scope of the project and Selectmen Ruth Mooney and Jon Pike explained their reasoning for supporting it.
The cost of the project dropped by about $275,000 from Monday night to Tuesday when McBey went to some local contractors and asked for target bidding.
Members of the Budget Committee wanted to know what the big picture for Belmont was in the minds of selectmen before they cast their votes.
Tonyel Mitchell-Berry specifically asked if the selectmen would recommend tearing down the old town hall on Main Street and Mooney said she would because the center of town needs parking. Mitchell-Berry agreed a park or something else would be preferable.
The current town offices, said Pike, were condemned in 1963 and the basement is not usable because of dampness.
Budget Committee Chair Ron Mitchell said that this is not the first time the town has talked about new town offices. He had documentation that in 2003 a new building, whose location was unknown, would have cost $2.3 million. He said the voters said no.
The need for a renovation of the Belmont Mill came as a surprise about two years ago when the selectmen learned that the fourth floor was not able to carry the weight load for the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program.
In order to fix the fourth floor, the third floor which is occupied by a doctor's offices, would have to be vacated, meaning the town would loose two floors of revenue. In addition, the day care on the first floor is relocating to a larger space because it cannot accommodate the number of children in the mill location.
With the Budget Committee's support, the next steps are a public bond hearing on January 20, a public hearing on the project itself on January 13 — both at 6:30 p.m. at the Corner Meeting House — and the SB-2 deliberative session on January 31.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said the Board of Selectmen is considering a second public hearing or information session in February.