BELMONT — Selectmen and members of the public who attended yesterday's meeting with contractors hired to repair the Belmont Mill, with a goal of turning it into town hall, said they want to make sure the masonry is sound before the town sinks any more money into it.
Contractor Bonnette, Page and Stone representative Keith McBey agreed and said that they have a masonry expert available to them.
After learning two years ago that the fourth floor of the mill was sagging and then learning the work done to repair it was partially faulty, selectmen got some estimates from BP&S to fix it to the point that it could be used and a second estimate for using it as a town hall.
The total estimates to repair came to just about $1.4 million and included site work, mechanical repairs to things like the heating ventilation and air conditioning system and the elevator, the sprinkler system, and the electrical system.
The estimates on the conversion to town hall use is about $2.3 million.
At a recent meeting, Budget Committee Chair Ron Mitchell urged them to trim their mill repair budget but yesterday selectmen said they want a true estimate.
"If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right," Selectboard Chair Ruth Mooney told McBey, meaning that as BP&S continues with their cost estimating and should it determine additional things need repairing and replacing, the company should let the selectmen know so the taxpayers can have a complete picture before they vote in March.
The Belmont Mill burned in 1992 and restoration on it began about four years later, ending in 1998. Since that time, taxpayers have repaired the roof, fixed some drainage problems, and have done some environmental testing that led to asbestos, mold and lead paint remediation.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said yesterday that she was still putting together a detailed record from 2000 to 2006 of other repairs done to the mill.
The other immediate obstacle to using the mill as a town hall is the potential repayment of a portion of the Community Development Block Grant Loan Program used to restore it. The loan has five years left and using the building as a town hall is not an accepted use under the terms that limit it to uses that serve middle- to low-income families.
Selectman Jon Pike said there is also a cost for not doing anything about moving town hall over the next five years. He noted that construction costs will only get higher and it may be better for the town to repay the interest on the CDBG loan now and move on with the project.
Beaudin said she was working with one of U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte's aids about the loan repayment should the town decide to move forward with the town hall use.
Pike noted that the mill wasn't going anywhere and that it was now the center of town and should be used as the town hall.
"The million spent saving the mill was historically correct but economically incorrect," Pike said. "But now that it's ours, why don't we use it."
"It is the epicenter," he said.
Pike also noted that the top floor of the existing town hall building was condemned in 1965 and there is not enough space for town government.
"It's overcrowded and has moisture problems," he said, adding there is no privacy for people who are conducting business there.
Mooney added that there is limited handicap parking at the current town hall. "It would make a better parking lot than a town hall," she said.
Selectmen will meet again with BP&S on October 15 at 3:30 p.m.
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