Town trying to project its building plans

Email|Print| Text size + By Rachel Lebeaux
Globe Correspondent / December 16, 2007

Now that Franklin has approved spending $300,000 for library and museum upgrades, some councilors want to get a better view of the big picture when it comes to future projects, and compile a new survey of the town's building woes.

The Town Council's vice chairwoman, Deborah Bartlett, has requested a discussion of Franklin's capital needs at the council's meeting Wednesday. She said she hopes that it will help Franklin officials embark on a new comprehensive capital plan, now that projects on the last plan are winding down.

"We need to have a comprehensive plan of things that need to happen in the next 10 years, and we don't have that now," Bartlett said.

The discussion follows the council's decision last week to spend the proceeds from a hotel/motel tax on two projects: $90,000 for an architect to specifications so repairs to the public library can go out to bid, and $210,000 to spruce up the town's former senior center so the Franklin Historical Commission's Horace Mann Museum can move into the space.

Originally, officials had hoped to cull money for these projects from a 3 percent property tax surcharge - plus state matching funds - under the Community Preservation Act, but a proposal to set up the program in Franklin was rejected by voters last month.

Franklin had special legislation passed several years ago that allows money from the hotel/motel tax to go into a special fund designated for recreation and open-space needs.

There is currently $1.6 million in that fund, according to Town Administrator Jeff Nutting. Town Council is authorized to redirect the money should it see a need, he said.

The library, which Nutting has estimated could cost up to $6 million to repair, requires a lot of work on its exterior, including attention to the gutters and masonry.

"We've been seeing some problems with water seeping in," Nutting said.

Bartlett said she strongly favors spending money on the library, which holds treasures such as books donated by Benjamin Franklin.

"The library is at more of a crisis stage," Bartlett said. "The historic panoramas are starting to be damaged. The longer it goes on, the more damage there will be. It's up to us to protect that."

The Mann Museum is in an old church and meeting hall on Washington Street that lacks a reliable heating system. Bringing it downtown to the East Central Street building would give the Historical Commission a more up-to-date facility and allow the museum to be open additional hours. Nutting said officials would like the space to be ready by next fall.

Next year's hotel/motel tax money also will likely go toward the museum project, and should be "close to sufficient" for completing the building work, said Nutting. He estimates that the upgrades will cost $500,000 to $600,000.

But the museum request didn't impress Bartlett equally, prompting her request for a broader building review.

"The museum artifacts have been where they are now for as long as I've been here," Bartlett said. "I felt that was less of a crisis situation, and that there are many other capital projects that we, as a whole group, have not given discussion to. I wanted to see more of a comprehensive list."

The council's chairman, Chris Feeley, who supported both expenditures, agreed that the museum and library projects represent only a portion of the town's looming capital needs.

"I don't disagree . . . that we need a comprehensive capital plan, but I think some of the items on that plan are going to be more costly than what we're discussing here," Feeley said.

The biggest looming item is the town's 35-year-old high school, which was not included in the state School Building Authority's first round of funding, announced earlier this month. Town officials must discuss over the next few months how renovations might proceed with local funding.

"You're talking tens of millions of dollars there," Feeley said.

Bartlett said that Franklin has other capital needs, including the installation of an elevator at Davis Thayer Elementary School, which was delayed once before when estimates came in higher than expected.

There heating-system upgrades being considered at other schools as well, Bartlett said.

The capital-needs discussion Wednesday will likely only be a start.

"My hope would be, at a minimum, to have a list of projects we think are upcoming, and possibly prioritize them," Feeley said.

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