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Moretown residents suffer sticker shock at town offices forum

On Thursday, January 10, the Moretown town office committee hosted a public forum seeking feedback on seven proposed sites for a new town office.

The new town office will replace the Moretown Village building that was destroyed due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, and it’s been over a year since the committee first came together in December 2011 to begin its all-inclusive search. In the meantime, the town established a temporary office at Kaiser Drive on Route 2, in a building directly adjacent to Moretown Landfill.

Remaining in the Kaiser Drive building ($756,875) is one of the options under consideration, as well as constructing a new building on that same site ($833,963). Other options include constructing a building in the space adjacent to the Moretown Elementary School playground ($790,950), in the space adjacent to the school’s tennis courts ($912,211) and in a space off of Fox Farm Run called the “Kingsbury Site” ($844,144).

The committee has also estimated the cost of renovating the front half of the elementary school building to serve as a town office ($1,625,625) as well as the cost of rebuilding in the existing town office site ($813,159).

Right now, “I think the challenge is finding a site,” committee member Diana Costello said. “We’re stuck.”

Throughout the meeting, however, residents could not help but focus more on itemized construction estimates for the building itself rather than the pros and cons of its location.

“Two thousand square feet?” one resident asked incredulously. “That’s almost three times as big as the old town offices,” he said. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that.”

In response, committee chair Clark Amadon explained that 2,000 was the estimate for exterior square footage and that the proposed building would only include 1,600 square feet of usable space.

According to Amadon—and many other members of the committee—the size of the old town offices was simply inadequate. When thinking about the new town offices, “the growth of the facility is important,” Amadon said, explaining that cramped spaces “infringe upon the quality of work that people can do.”

The purpose of the forum, Amadon said, is “to think about what the town offices were, what they are now and what we’ll need in 15 to 20 years from now,” but residents appeared cautious about making such a large investment.

Some of this caution could stem from the fact that the town’s biggest business, Moretown Landfill, is currently in danger of being shut down by the Agency of Natural Resources for failing to fix environmental violations. If the landfill closes, the town will lose out on over $500,000 annually from the host-town agreement it maintains with the facility as well as significant property tax fees.

With this possibility, residents questioned whether some of the costs included in the price comparison chart were too high—or even necessary at all—considering the town could be coming into a money crunch.

When asked about what one resident deemed an extremely high cost for construction per square foot, the committee explained that the estimate was based on building the most energy efficient model, which—while expensive in the short term—will save on energy costs in the coming years.

The estimates “are on the conservative side,” Henry Erickson of Erickson Consulting said, explaining that some of the actual construction costs could likely be lower. But Moretown won’t know that until they move forward in the site selection process.

The committee plans to meet within the next month to narrow down the search to one or two sites, in order to develop a cost analysis “with real, hard numbers,” Costello said.

In the meantime, the town has submitted an application for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for which “there are two possible approaches,” Amadon explained. Either the town can apply for money to repair and update infrastructure on the existing site, or it can apply for money to build a replacement building on a different site.

The “art of the process,” Amadon said, will be building an office that meets the town’s needs but is not so elaborate that it doesn’t qualify for federal reimbursement.

Unfortunately, FEMA recently ruled that Moretown’s town offices are not a “critical facility,” which will substantially affect the amount of money the committee can receive. “We will mostly likely be appealing that,” Amadon said.

The committee is also applying for funding from the state of Vermont’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is part of an ongoing effort to lessen the impact of natural disasters on people and property.

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