Epsom may consider a new town office proposal

  • The current Epsom town hall is shown. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Saturday, October 14, 2017

Voters in Epsom could be considering a new town office proposal at the ballot box this March.

The town has for decades struggled to find a permanent home for its offices, with residents shooting down multiple proposals to either build anew or renovate an existing building.

“There’s a stack of proposals, the size of a small dog, that have gone before the voters,” said select board chairman Don Harty.

But Harty said he hopes to put a new – though familiar – plan before Epsom on Town Meeting Day to finally settle the matter.

Two years ago, the town fell 12 votes shy of the necessary 60 percent it needed in order to pass a bond to build new offices on town-owned land next to the police station.

Harty wants to revive basically the same proposal – with basically the same floor plan, in the same location – but on a smaller scale. Instead of the two-story building proposed two years ago, Harty thinks a one-story, 3,200-square-foot structure would do just fine. And he thinks the difference could save taxpayers a significant amount of money.

There’s a hitch, though, which Harty acknowledges. The town has signed a 10-year lease for its current offices, which doesn’t expire until 2020. A clause would allow the town to break the lease if it moves to a building the town owns and where the “square footage is equal or greater” to its current location. That’s why previous proposals were at least 4,500 square-feet.

Harty thinks if the town can use extra storage space elsewhere, including the police station, that it can wiggle out of its lease. But if that doesn’t work, he also thinks the town might want to consider building smaller anyway and just eat the remaining years left on the lease. He said he’ll add in the requirement that contractors include cost estimates for a 3,200-square-foot structure and a 4,500-square-foot one so the town can make an informed decision.

“There are some unanswered questions. But the only way to get them answered, is to get the dollars and cents of what the scenarios could be,” he said.

The select board hasn’t taken any formal action yet on the matter, but Harty discussed the proposal Monday night with fellow select board member Chris Bowes, who encouraged him to move forward with crafting a request for proposals.

The plan is sure to stoke strong emotions in town, where the issue of what to do about the town’s offices has long divided people.

Len Gilman, a resident who had worked on a proposal twice voted down by voters to convert the Epsom Bible Church, or meetinghouse, into town offices, told select board members he was furious when he heard Harty discuss the proposal Monday night.

“I’m appalled with the 3,200 square feet that you mentioned about because it was you, Don, distinctly, when we talked about doing the meetinghouse, that we had to make sure we had room for expansion, plus we had to make sure we have the square footage we needed to get out of the lease,” Gilman said.

“The selectmen need to turn around and live in town all their lives to understand the town,” he added. “You’re not lifers.”

Paid through October, the town had spent $33,230 on rent this year. Rent will go up 3 percent next year.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)