Council takes next step on new Windsor Town Hall

Published 5:00 pm Friday, May 3, 2024

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The Windsor Town Council voted unanimously on April 9 to take the next step forward on the development of a new municipal building, spending $52,022 to finish the schematic design and update cost estimates.

William Saunders

Windsor Town Manager William Saunders shared the background and specifics on the proposed new Town Hall in an April 9 memo to the council and mayor.

“In the 2016-17 timeframe, the Town Council solicited the services of an architectural firm, Moseley Architects, to initiate design work on a new municipal building,” he stated. “The architects worked up several design options with cost estimates in 2016-17.”

He noted that due to several capital projects being considered at that time, including the Windsor Town Center, the new Public Works building and a sidewalk project, the municipal building project was tabled. 

The Town Council held a work session on Jan. 23, 2024, during which it renewed talks about a new municipal building. Saunders stated that since then, an architect with Moseley Architects has said the firm would be glad to enter into an addendum to the original agreement for architectural services it had made with the town, picking up where the previous council left off. 

Saunders wrote that given the tentative nature of the restart of this project, two new amendments to the agreement would be created — the first being to finish schematic design and update cost estimates.

During the April 9 meeting, Saunders shared more details on this first amendment.

“This agreement does cover schematic design, meeting with the Town Council, working on preliminary plans and revising the floor plan to new input from the current staff and council and then preparation and update of the probable construction costs in this part of the amendment,” he said.

Then he said, “There is potentially a second amendment that might come later for design development through construction administration, but for now we’re just looking at schematic design and cost estimates.”

In the memo, he noted that it was also previously determined that the suitable municipal building for Windsor would be closer to 8,000-10,000 square feet rather than the 5,000 square feet that was envisioned at the beginning of the design phase. 

The proposed amendment to the agreement for architectural services was in hand at the Town Council’s March 12 meeting, but the council voted to table it then due to the limited time it had to review the document prior to the meeting.

Saunders indicated that the cost to approve the first proposed amendment was $52,022.

Walter Bernacki

“For now, the $52,000 finishes the floor plan, the exterior exhibits and the cost estimate,” he said. “What we don’t have before us yet should you take the next step… the next amendment they recommend would take you from this finished product to construction, but not doing construction administration. We don’t have a cost for that.”

Councilman Walter Bernacki, who has led the revival of discussion on the new municipal building, advocated for accepting the amendment.

“I think we need to take this next step, get the design in front of us, get the floor plan laid out, get the exterior,” he said. “Now based on that, they’ll have a more accurate cost for us.”

J. Randy Carr

Windsor Vice Mayor J. Randy Carr brainstormed about how to pay for costs related to a new municipal building.

“Can a government organization ask for monies from private individuals or private businesses?” he said. “Is this something that is possible, not possible?”

Windsor Town Attorney Fred Taylor said, “I don’t immediately know the answer to it. Certainly I think just by way of thinking out loud, I think you see examples of that in various arenas and sporting-type facilities, many of which — I won’t say all of which — are owned by local government. But I think that may go more toward the question of how do you fund the ultimate project versus the preliminary side of things.”

Councilman Edward “Gibbie” Dowdy also wanted more details on how the new Town Hall would be paid for.

Edward “Gibbie” Dowdy

“Have we got a way to fund it right now and where is the money coming from and how are we going to do that?” he said. “Has that been looked at yet? Are we going to have to increase taxes? Where are we going with this as far as what kind of increase we have? Should we put a proposal out to the community on a ballot to see if they want to increase their taxes for this? I’m just brainstorming here too.”

Bernacki said part of that is kind of like putting the cart before the horse.

“Until we can get this part done and get a true number, we won’t know the answer to that,” he said.

In a budget estimate provided by Moseley Architects P.C. on a new Town Hall building, the 2017 construction cost subtotal of a 7,900-square-foot, one-story Town Hall building was listed at $4,421,237. The 2017 subtotal for a 10,000-square-foot building was listed at $5,050,790, the escalation to 2024 was listed at $7,053,429, and the escalation to 2026, described as the construction midpoint, was listed at $7,617,703.

Including other costs, the budget estimate featured a total of $9,821,703.

However, Bernacki said there could be quite a bit of difference between the true numbers and what was listed in that budget estimate.

Recalling an earlier comment from Carr, Bernacki told council members that the town is going to need the new municipal building soon anyway.

Bernacki encouraged the council to handle the new Town Hall project in steps. He acknowledged that upon learning of the true cost estimate, the council may opt to table the project for a couple years. But he indicated that at least it will be moving the project further along and paying $52,022 to do so instead of having to pay a larger amount in the future as prices continue to escalate.

Marlin W. Sharp

Councilman Marlin W. Sharp said, “My take on this would be our decision tonight would be whether to move ahead or not. Down the road then we need to decide how we’re going to do what we’re going to do, but we either decide tonight to move ahead or not. And if we’re not, then I think what Mr. Carr said is true — OK, in two years, three years, five years, we’re going to be paying three, four, five times more.

“So I would be in favor of moving ahead and saying, ‘OK, let’s look at it from a more realistic perspective,’ rather than just kind of dancing around saying, ‘Well, it might be that number, it could be this number,’” he added. “We don’t know that.”

Councilman David Adams, who was participating in the meeting by phone, indicated that he was inclining toward Dowdy’s mindset, wanting to know more about how the town will pay for the new Town Hall.

“(I’m) understanding we don’t have an exact number, but even if we were going to say that the 2017 cost at the lower square footage is what we can come in at, we’re still looking at $4.4 million,” he said. “If we liquidated our entirety of the ARPA fund at $751,000, that leaves us with $3.5 million worth of borrowed money or whatever. How are we going to pay that money back is really what I would like to know. 

David Adams

“There has to come a point where — I think we’re all kind of dancing around it — I think taxes have to be raised unless you raised the revenue to pay for this,” he added. “That’s what I would like to kind of understand more. I’m not proposing that we don’t move forward, but I’m not going to vote to move forward wholistically.”

Bernacki said, “If I understand what you’re saying right, you understand or are kind of in agreeance with the fact that we have to take at least this step to get an accurate number, and then based on that information, either table it, depending on the budgetary constraints, or at least that way you’ll be up to that point of making a decision. Is that how I’m understanding you correctly?”

“You nailed it,” Adams said. “I concur with that. We have to at least expend a little bit of funds to find out what the total cost there is going to be.”

Bernacki made the motion to accept the amendment to the agreement with Moseley Architects that will finish schematic design and update cost estimates.

The 6-0 vote followed shortly thereafter.