Town officials have decided to spend more time analyzing Foxborough’s Town Hall project and will recommend no action at the Dec. 11 Special Town Meeting, according to Town Manager Kevin Paicos.
“I told [the Advisory Committee] I don’t have time to give sufficient attention to the Town Hall funding plan in the next three weeks,” said Paicos. “If it went to Town Meeting and [residents] appropriated the $500,000 to do the design, I cannot stand here with full confidence and tell [the town] I could come back in the spring and say how we are going to afford the bonds for the full project.”
Paicos said the town’s Chief Financial Officer, Randy Scollins, was able to get a multi-year revenue forecast of the town completed that included the projected cost of the debt service of the Town Hall project but those figures were less than favorable.
“When [Scollins] put the debt service for the Town Hall project in [the forecast] it throws the budgets substantially out of balance,” Paicos said. “The bottom line is as it stands right now, assuming the other revenues and expenses we forecast [are accurate] we can’t afford to do $8 million worth of new debt.”
However, that doesn’t mean Paicos has lost confidence in the town being able to afford the project.
“I’m still very optimistic about having the money to be able to do the project,” Paicos said. “The problem is between now and Dec. 11 we don’t have a lot of time and energy to devote to that analysis because we simultaneously have to start writing the budget for next year in order to keep that process on track for Annual Town Meeting.”
As a result, and at the request of Advisory Committee members, Paicos and Scollins will continue to analyze funding for the Town Hall project and explore other options, which may soon include the Post Office building as a potential location.
“Post office is not an option yet,” Paicos cautioned. “At this point, up until the last few weeks, the post office has indicated they were not necessarily selling the building and they weren’t inviting us to tour it and we weren’t considering it as an option.”
That all changed a few weeks ago, according to Paicos, when the town received an invitation to tour the building.
“Now [the post office] is back on the table as an option,” Paicos said. “We are going to take a look at the building, have the architect figure out what the cost would be to rehab the building. It needs some repairs and some major renovations that will make it suitable for an office building.”
Currently, Paicos says the Post Office building’s front end is office space while the back end is warehouse space.
“We have to see what it would cost to make it office space and is it competitive with the cost of a new Town Hall?” Paicos said. “We are going to go through that analysis and that’s what’s changed. We now have that opportunity. We didn’t have that opportunity a month-and-a-half ago when we put the Special Town Meeting warrant together.”
Board of Selectmen chair James DeVellis said while the Town Hall issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later he supports the recent decision made by town officials.
“I think it is the responsible thing to make sure we are not going in a direction that can’t be supported with a solid funding plan,” DeVellis said. “Funding it over 20 years from within our projected budget rather than taking out a bond or mortgage has merit in some aspects but requires speculation. Unfortunately, the pieces that go into the future budget move and perhaps they will move in the right direction, but it is felt we could not take the chance.”
Paicos said he and Scollins will use the additional time to further investigate the town's options.
“It gives us a little more time to review and look into the option of leasing space instead of building a new Town Hall,” Paicos said. “We are going to go through both of those in a lot more detail and this will give us some time to do it.”
Paicos expects to report back to the Advisory Committee in January or February with an update on the Town Hall project.
“When I go back to [the Advisory Committee], probably in January or February, I’m hoping to have a lot more detail on a couple of alternatives that have been researched a lot more thoroughly than in the past and give them a much better analysis,” Paicos said.
One of those alternatives that hasn’t been looked at carefully is leasing space. Paicos, at the request of the Advisory Committee, said he’d be happy to look into that option.
“Nobody ever really looked at the lease option seriously but what I’m being told by the Advisory Committee at this point is that they would not consider supporting a new Town Hall option unless we thoroughly vet the lease option,” said Paicos. “Now we are going to investigate that in depth so when I go back to them this winter I will have that option investigated.”
As to why the leasing option hasn’t been seriously investigated in the past? Paicos says towns typically shy away from that option because they prefer to own their Town Hall building.
“I don’t think the leasing option was ever fully explored and the reason was because there’s been a conscious decision made that typically towns own their town hall, it’s kind of a symbol of the town government,” Paicos said.
A more pressing reason, however, is the lack of available space adequate for a Town Hall in downtown Foxborough.
“There’s no space available in the center of town so nobody ever explored the lease option very thoroughly because there was a lot of opinion against it,” Paicos said. Some fear the negative impact moving Town Hall from downtown will have on local businesses.
“If the Town Hall moves from downtown then that takes a lot of foot traffic away from a lot of shops in the downtown area,” Paicos said.
Voters may not see the Town Hall project warrant article at the Dec. 11 Special Town meeting but Paicos remains hopeful it will be ready for May’s Annual Town Meeting.
“I’m hoping this will be on the Annual Town Meeting warrant but this is also giving us a little more time to take a look at the Post Office option, which we are actually going to tour [this week],” Paicos said.
DeVellis added he hopes the final decision and plan will "be a building that reflects the values and needs of Foxborough, which should be conservative.”
And in the meantime?
“Let’s take this as an opportunity to take a short breath,” DeVellis said.