Hopkinton, LGC settle on payment for replacement of town’s highway garage lost in fire
Hopkinton officials have reached a settlement with their insurance company over the town’s highway garage, which burned to the ground last June, after what they called an arduous negotiation that has many of them thinking it is time to search for a new insurer.
The agreement, announced yesterday, is for $769,434 – about $100,000 more than what the town said the Local Government Center valued the building after the fire but nearly $250,000 less than what its selectmen still say it’s worth.
“This whole process has been somewhat disappointing, both for the town and the board,” said Jim O’Brien, chairman of the board of selectmen. “Nothing about it has been quick or easy or painless, and I think it’s left a really bad taste in a lot of our mouths.”
O’Brien said the board had countered the LGC’s original offer with “something in the $825,000 range.” However, the selectmen decided to settle on the latest figure to avoid arbitration and further legal fees, as well as to help sell the $1.3 million bond – not including the insurance payment – that is now required to build a new facility.
Selectman George Langwasser said there was no guarantee a more drawn out process would lead to substantial dividends.
“I think without spending an awful lot of money on legal fees with a potentially questionable result, this is about the best we’re going to get,” Langwasser said. “The last thing I want to do is gamble with this town’s assets, even though we feel we should have gotten a million dollars because that’s the premium we were paying for.”
“Do I like it?” he added. “No. I think the town has been wronged.”
O’Brien said the board will consider looking for a new insurance company in the coming months. “Our contract with LGC is up in July, and I think from now until then we’ll definitely be having those conversations,” he said.
Ron Davies, the LGC’s claim manager, acknowledged there had been differing opinions on a payout figure, but said he hoped that would not cause any long-term rift between Hopkinton and his company, which insures 34 of the town’s buildings.
“We both came up with offers that we thought were fair and I don’t feel that there is a strain,” he said. “There was no argument there.”
Davies also said the original $1 million appraisal was incorrect due to a coding error from an assessment made before the fire and the added premium paid on that estimate had been returned in full to the town.
Hopkinton officials say they are now eager to move forward with construction of a new garage for which they have already commissioned a design and hired a construction firm.
Since the blaze, the town has been storing equipment and trucks in various locations, including a state highway garage in Warner, which has presented obstacles when it comes to maintaining and transporting vehicles, said John Thayer, Hopkinton’s highway superintendent.
Thayer welcomed the settlement as a step toward the new garage, which he said is designed to be slightly bigger than the old one and will incorporate up-to-date technology. “It’s a shame the old building burnt down, it served us well, but this is a chance to really upgrade our facilities,” he said.
Town Administrator Neal Cass said the new facility would be better insulated and would incorporate other energy-saving equipment. “It’s a replacement that’s big enough to meet the needs today and the needs for the next 20 or so years,” he said.
Officials will present design plans and cost estimates at a special bond hearing Feb. 11. The community will then vote to approve the bond at its annual town meeting in March.
Last November, that same bond measure was knocked down after falling four votes shy of approval.
“When we went to town meeting last year we didn’t get enough information out there, we didn’t do a proper salesmanship job, and there was this question mark on the LGC issue,” O’Brien said. “Now all those questions will be answered.”
O’Brien said the project, if approved, could break ground within weeks of the March town meeting and be completed as early as this fall.