By Ray Carbone
BRADFORD – In the two months since town meeting voters rejected a proposal to spend $1.3 million to continue renovation and restoration work at the old Town Hall, the selectmen have been working to “button up” the project for at least five years, according to Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the select board.
It’s not what Bibbo wanted, he admitted last week, but he and his fellow board members are complying with the town’s decisions, which includes spending $170,000 to secure and protect the property for the foreseeable future.
The original estimate was less than $1 million but it’s now closer to $3 million.
“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Bibbo said. “It’s what the town wants.”
In recent weeks, the board has discussed several ways to move the “buttoning-up” process forward, including adding granite to the historic building’s foundation as well as providing both a heating and a fire alarm system.
Bibbo said the selectmen have estimates for both a furnace and the alarm system, but recently opted to put the projects out for new bids.
“The board felt it could be done cheaper,” he explained, especially after one business unofficially indicated that it would do some work at a much lower price. “We were going to be short a couple of thousand in the budget, so we felt we’d look to see if it could be done cheaper.
“We have time to bid it out, and if the bids come back and they’re not cheaper we can always still go back to the (original) contractors,” he commented.
The board has about five weeks before work begins on the heating and fire alarm systems because the granite foundation project is an “expensive, long process,” Bibbo explained. The new stone will be attached directly to the building’s concrete foundation, which will both add to the structure’s stability and restore some its original historic look.
“It will actually sit on the granite, it’s not just for looks,” Bibbo said.
The on-site cutting is already underway, but it will be more than a month before the local masonry work can be completed, the chairman noted.
“Then they’ll do all the rest of the stuff,” Bibbo said.
At the board’s May 14 meeting, the three-member board publically thanked the local Rural Heritage Connection organization for a recent $7,500 donation that will help defray the costs of adding structural steel reinforcement to the old town hall.
“The structural part of the original building was not good, but nobody realized it was so bad,” Bibbo said last week. “It was totally unanticipated, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. The front of building was built in 1863 and the back stage in 1906, and when they did that (newer section) they cut out some of the structural beams.”
The recent structural renovations added a “couple of tons of steel” to the old municipal meeting hall because “the back of the building was falling down,” according to Bibbo.
Bibbo noted that the controversial restoration project has been plagued with cost-related challenges from its inception. The original estimate approved by voters several years ago was less than $1-million, but it’s now closer to $3-million, and putting the work off for a few years may only increase the bottom-line, he suggested.
“I’ve talked to people in other towns and when you plan something for several years out, it’s going to end up costing more,” he suggested.
His professional experience working as an administrator of several significant building projects also led him to think that the town would be wise moving forward with the restoration work.
“But that’s not what the town believes,” he added. “And the town is my boss.”
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, May 28, 2018.