BELGRADE — Residents at a special town meeting Saturday approved construction of a new Town Office and authorized selectmen to seek local contractors for the job first.

Residents voted 58-26 in favor of appropriating up to $1.2 million to build a 5,000-square-foot Town Office on an 11-acre lot in a former gravel pit on Town Pit Road, off Route 27, already owned by the town.

“We’re glad to have it in the works, finally,” Ernie Rice, chairman of the Board of Selectpersons said after the vote, referring to the new office, which has been at least 10 years in the making.

Some residents at the hour-and-a-half-long meeting expressed concerns that selectmen don’t plan to require the general contractor on the job to obtain a performance bond, money that could be paid to help protect the town if something goes wrong with the project; that the office proposal is too expensive; and that it should be located elsewhere.

Resident George Seel, noting that before he retired from his profession involving overseeing environmental cleanups and other projects of a cost similar to that of the town’s $1.2 million building project, said he’d never have done work of that cost and type without making sure contractors first were required to provide a bond.

“I think you’re putting the town at great risk,” he said.

Selectman Gary Mahler said the board doesn’t plan to require contractors to have a bond because that would increase the project’s cost.

Rice said officials would check with the town’s attorney to see whether state law mandates that the town require contractors to obtain a bond.

Resident Dana Doran said the new office shouldn’t be built as a standalone building, and should instead be part of an existing town facility that could be expanded, such as the Belgrade Community Center for All Seasons, which was the location of Saturday’s meeting. He noted the town has separate locations for the food pantry and a library, as well as the community center, and it would be more expensive to build a free-standing building than to expand another, such as the community center. He said scattering services around town is not in taxpayers’ best interest.

Rice responded that it would be expensive to expand the community center to accommodate the Town Office, and there would be privacy concerns, given that children using the community center.

Other residents said $1.2 million for a town office is too expensive.

However, residents favoring the plan said the new office is needed to escape air quality and accessibility problems at the current office, it is long overdue, and selectmen were wise to insist on quality materials to avoid building problems such as those that developed at the community center, such as a bad roof and heating system, which have since been replaced, after the building was built in 2000.

“I applaud the approach to this project,” Tom Streznewski said. “It is expensive. It’s just expensive to build anything these days. There is no cheaping out. While it is expensive, we won’t have to pay twice, like we did with this building.”

Selectmen said they anticipate the new office, which will have public restrooms and a meeting room capable of holding 200 people, can be built for less than the approved $1.2 million. They said that figure was used to make sure they have enough to cover the entire cost.

Town officials intend to use $200,000 from a Town Office reserve account, up to $450,000 from undesignated funds and a maximum of $550,000 from a bank loan.

However, at a public meeting on the proposals on Aug. 18, Rice said they’re hoping to get it done for less than $900,000.

Rice also said the project would not require a tax increase. He said the town has been setting aside $50,000 a year in anticipation of the project, and board members would not sign a loan from the bank that requires any more than $50,000 a year to pay back.

Rice said a request for bids on the project will go out Monday and likely be opened at the selectpersons’ meeting Sept. 15. He said they hope work can start by Oct. 1 and be complete and ready within 120 days, which would be around the beginning of February.

Residents also voted to allow selectmen to seek bids from subcontractors to work on the project from among local contractors first; then, if no local bids are deemed acceptable by selectmen, to seek bids from out-of-town contractors.

Despite his concern about the lack of a bond requirement for contractors, Seel, a member of the Belgrade Planning Board, praised the project, saying it is “incredibly well-designed,” and its location, in a pit just down Route 27 from the existing Town Office, is ideal to protect the water quality in the area because of the site’s ability to contain water runoff.

Resident Melanie Jewell expressed disappointment the new office plan doesn’t appear to use renewable energy sources, such as geothermal or solar.

Rice said solar “isn’t that great in Maine” and renewable energy technology is improving at such a fast pace anything the town installs will be obsolete within a few years. He said plans do include insulating the structure well and installing its propane tanks underground to protect them and allow them to provide gas more efficiently when the air gets cold.

Town Manager Gregory Gill said a new Town Office has been something the town has sought all of his five years as manager, and all five years of previous manager Dennis Keschl’s time as manager, as well.

In 2010, voters in Belgrade rejected plans to build a $3.6 million, 14,680-square-foot, multipurpose municipal complex that would have included a library, a food pantry and a historical center. At the same time, they also rejected an alternative town building proposal – a 5,000-square-foot facility that would house only the Town Office and cost $1 million.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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