News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 11, 2018
Estimates top $600,000 for ICC building repairs

by Rich Hewitt

It will take a bundle to repair the Island Community Center building.

An engineering study estimates that repairs and upgrades to the town-owned building will cost more than $600,000, and, even with that expenditure, the building still would have numerous problems.

Andrew McCullough, the Ellsworth engineer who has worked on a number of projects for the town, conducted the study with the assistance of specialists in heating, plumbing and electrical systems. McCullough outlined a long list of work needed on the building with a total estimated price tag of $648,450.

Among the big ticket items needed, McCullough included mold remediation, $20,000; electrical improvements, $57,000; alarm system, $68,000; reshingling the gym roof, $68,000; sprinkler system, $125,000; and interior air handling system, $50,000.

Those expenditures would bring the building into compliance with the Life Safety Code and the Americans with Disabilities Act, create a more energy efficient building and a “more safe and healthful environment,” McCullough wrote in the report, noting the high cost to the community and citing problems that would remain with the building.

“With these investments,” he wrote, “you will have a building that does not have showers that can be used if it is a Warming Center during a natural disaster, has inadequately sized restrooms, continues to have moisture intrusion from the crawl space under the Gymnasium, has limited storage space, has moisture intrusion through the concrete slabs, has high operation costs for dehumidifiers and interior ventilation system, as well as patched walls and ceilings.”

For comparison, he noted that a new building, with more storage, better parking and security with room for expansion could be designed and built for about $100 per square foot and would have a life span of about 50 years with proper maintenance.

Selectmen did not discuss details of the report when they met January 3, and though the estimated cost may have been a surprise, they were well aware that the building was in need of work. The board already knew that the gym needed a new roof, and commissioned the building assessment to determine what else might be needed before asking for funding at town meeting. Although selectmen indicated that they might be able to spread out the cost of some of those projects and possibly reduce the costs closer to $400,000, fixing the building will still be a significant cost to the town.

“The question is how much are you willing to spend,” said Selectman Evelyn Duncan. “What makes the most sense for this building?”

The town took ownership of the building when the school department consolidated classes in a new building in Deer Isle. It has leased the building to the ICC in long-term leases, but in December signed just a one-year lease pending the results of the building assessment.

Members of the ICC board of trustees attended the selectmen’s meeting hoping to discuss the report with McCullough and were miffed that he was not there. McCullough had planned to discuss the report with some of the selectmen earlier in the day, but selectmen wanted an evening session when all the selectmen could attend. McCullough, however, had a previous evening commitment, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings, and could not make that meeting. A meeting with McCullough is rescheduled for January 9.

“It’s only fair that we get to have a discussion with him since it’s going to affect us,” said board member Renee Sewall. “I don’t think it’s as grim as it has to be in this report.”

She added that she wanted more information about how McCullough conducted the study.

“I just want to talk with him about how he got to his conclusions,” she said.

Nat Barrows, the ICC board vice president, said he was concerned about the lack of communication between selectmen and the board in general, and particularly as it has affected the building assessment.

“Communication has not worked out well. We don’t know what’s going on,” Barrows said. “The engineer never talked to Jeannie [Hatch, the ICC executive director]; he didn’t contact us about what we felt we need to have in our plans. He didn’t ask us about what we have for objectives. People are concerned and are asking us what’s happening and we don’t have any answers.”

Chris Betts, the chairman of the selectmen, responded, saying “we can do better,” with communication, although Selectman Donna Brewer and Billings both stressed that the results of the study should not come as a surprise to the ICC board. Brewer said she had raised the issue of the building’s condition several times when she served as the selectmen’s representative to the ICC board, and those warnings went unheeded. ICC board members countered that they have made about $100,000 in improvements to the building over the years.

Despite contention at that meeting, the ICC board supports the selectmen’s effort to assess the condition of the building and said so in a joint statement from Hatch and ICC Board President Lydia MacDonald. They said: “We appreciate the town’s efforts to secure a better understanding of the building’s needs and are eager to meet with Mr. McCullough to discuss the assessment. We look forward to working with the town of Stonington to improve this historic asset and have it continue to be a vital and important facility for the health and well-being of the community.”

The selectmen have not taken any action on the assessment report, but will likely need to do so sometime this month. Billings said the pressing question for selectmen is how much of the building needs to tackle at this point. Selectmen continue to work on the 2018 town budget to present at town meeting in March and will need to include warrant articles if they decide to make any repairs during this year. The options for funding, she said, are to either borrow money for whatever projects they do or to add those costs to the budget and fund it through taxes. Those decisions need to be made by the end of this month for the articles to be included in the annual town meeting warrant.