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Moretown publishes price comparison sheet for town office sites

On Thursday, November 1, the Moretown Town Office Committee met to go over the first draft of a table that displays the price estimate breakdowns for potential town office sites.

The new town office will replace the building that was destroyed due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, and it’s been nearly a year since the committee first came together last December. In this time, the members have conducted an all-inclusive search for a new site and, as of last Thursday, they’d narrowed it down to seven options.

In the meantime, the town has established a temporary office at Kaiser Drive on Route 2 in a building directly adjacent to Moretown Landfill. With one quick glance at Erickson Consulting’s price comparison table, it appears that remaining in the Kaiser Drive building is the cheapest path to a permanent town office.

At an estimated $756,875, the Kaiser Drive site would cost less than any of the sites currently under consideration because the town would not have to build a new building. Instead, they would renovate the existing space and install a vault.

The Kaiser Drive site is the cheapest, easiest option—but is it the best option?

According to committee chair Clark Amadon, “Our goal is to develop a facility that we can look back on in 20 years and say, ‘Hey, we’re glad we did this,’” he said. And there are a lot of downsides to the Kaiser Drive site.

For starters, the town would not own the building but would lease it from Moretown Landfill for $1,500 to $2,500 a month, which could add up over a period of many years. Also, if the landfill’s expansion project is not approved and the facility is forced to close once it reaches capacity within the next two years, the committee is unsure whether the leaseholder—and the rental conditions—could change.

Perhaps the Kaiser Drive building’s biggest downside—its Route 2 location, which committee members fear is too far from the center of town—is also its biggest upside, however.

While the Kaiser Drive building may feel disconnected from important sites such as the Moretown Elementary School, the post office and the library—all located in the village—this disconnection could prove invaluable in the case of another natural disaster, as it’s far from the floodplain and therefore much less vulnerable to damage than the other sites being considered, which are all located in Moretown Village alongside the flood-prone Mad River.

Earlier last week, facing the impending doom of Hurricane Sandy, the committee canceled a public forum it was planning on holding to gather residents’ input on the proposed town office sites. They are currently looking into rescheduling the hearing for sometime in January, but last week’s cancellation came as a kind of wake-up call.

“We need to build something that we know we can count on in an emergency,” committee member John Schmeltzer said, and there’s no guarantee that any of the proposed Moretown Village sites could not flood again. Those sites include a space adjacent to the Moretown Elementary School playground ($790,950), a space adjacent to the school’s tennis courts ($912,211), a space off of Fox Farm Run called the “Kingsbury Site” ($844,144), space in the front half of the elementary school building ($1,625,625) and the existing town office ($813,159).

Tropical Storm Irene was bad, and Hurricane Sandy could have been so much worse. “It makes me worried about putting [the town offices] back in the village,” Schmeltzer said.

Any town office buildings in the village would have to be elevated, including the existing town office building, which the town would need to raise eight feet—one foot above the 500-year-flood level—in order to qualify for FEMA funding. But even then, the amount of money that Moretown will receive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency remains uncertain. “The thing about FEMA is, we just don’t know,” Amadon said.

Ignoring the table’s one outlier—the space in the elementary school building, which the committee agreed was a “non-starter” due to its exorbitantly high cost—however, members were happy to see that all of the remaining sites cost about the same, which will hopefully help the town make an informed decision on which site will be not only be best for the budget but best for the town, in the long run.

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