By Erin Post

Warren officials are seeking proposals from architects as they move forward with plans to renovate the Town Hall and relocate the library there temporarily.

Select board members plan to review proposals at the end of next month.

Although select board members discussed whether to continue working with local architect Ellen Strauss-hired by the library to complete schematic designs for a possible move of the library to the Town Hall-the board and library trustee Carl Lobel decided to invite other firms for consideration.

"It seems like we need to open it up and have some fair competition," said select board chair Mac Rood at a recent select board meeting. He pointed out that the town is not required to hire the lowest bidder and may consider other factors such as a person's familiarity with the town and the Town Hall building.

Lobel added putting the project out to bid seemed appropriate now that a vote has been held and the town is spearheading the project.

At Town Meeting in March, voters approved renovating the Town Hall at a cost not to exceed $200,000. They also okayed a temporary move of the library to the first floor of the Town Hall.

Strauss' schematic designs, as well as rough cost estimates, were presented at several public forums in the months leading up to Town Meeting.

The preliminary design showed a layout for a temporary library space in the Town Hall -- including locations for shelving, workspaces and children's areas -- as well as improvements such as an elevator and handicapped-accessible bathrooms.

Now, bidders will be asked to take the schematic design and develop specific building plans and a more detailed budget.

The board decided to hold off on having proposals encompass construction administration until the town receives word on several grants they plan to seek.

Those decisions will likely not be made until January of February of 2008, town officials said. From now until applications are due in the fall, library and town officials will be working through the application process for historic preservation funding and a community development block grant.

Having a plan developed and an architect on board should give the town a leg up when it comes to securing grants, Lobel said, noting that program administrators often "look to towns to see how much support" a project has as part of the process of awarding grants.

Town officials pointed out that reinforcing the first floor of the Town Hall to support the weight of book stacks will likely be necessary -- as per an engineering report -- and should be included in plans and grant proposals.

"This is another thing that we're going to have to fold into the overall cost," said select board member Barry Simpson. "It's not something you don't ordinarily encounter with restoring old buildings."

Relocating the library has been touted by officials as a way to free up additional office space in the municipal building. It would also give the library room to expand its offerings as the town continues to work on a long-term plan to reconfigure the municipal center.

A proposal approved by the planning commission and developed in part through a community planning process calls for a new building to house the library.

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