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March 13. 2013 10:50PM

Panel leaves fate of town-owned lots to Pembroke voters

PEMBROKE - Pembroke voters in search of the facts about a question of keeping two lots on Union Street in the town's hands might find them in a recently published committee report, but what they won't find is a recommendation on how to vote on the issue Saturday at Town Meeting.

The properties consist of the old police and fire building at 4 Union St., assessed at $194,900, and an adjacent empty lot at 6 Union St., assessed at $50,400.

Since 2005, Pembroke has leased the 4 Union St. building to businesses and other agencies. While occupancy has varied since then, for the moment, it is fully rented. The Pembroke Sewer Commission occupies the basement; a Realtor, a candy maker and a massage therapist lease the first floor; and a local insurance agency rents the entire second story. The empty lot at 6 Union St., is used for downtown snow storage and parking.

The study, which was commissioned by the 2012 Town Meeting, was tasked with reporting on the current condition of the building and property, current income and expenditures, and any expected future maintenance.

While voters won't find a recommendation in the report, the 11-member committee that conducted the study did ultimately find the leasing arrangement financially viable, even turning a modest profit for the town.

The budget for 4 Union St., anticipated a $450 profit in 2011 and a $600 profit in 2012. Expected rent revenues, however, proved to be underestimated, and the costs associated with the property sometimes - though not always - came in under budget, so the town actually made $2,800 and $5,271 in those years. The report anticipates that $7,769 will be made from the building in 2013.

"On anything that we look at with revenue, the town of Pembroke tends to budget towards the conservative side, so that we're careful about not overspending," said Selectman David Sheldon, committee chairman. "The town is not losing money. It is generating income. Not a huge amount, but it is generating income."

A caveat offered by the committee, however, cautions that while the profits are all well and good, a reading of state law suggests that "municipalities should not be in the 'business' of leasing property to private entities." In other words, if the town wants to hold on to the buildings, it should justify it on grounds other than the fact that it's making a profit from it.

That justification also would have to based on current or future municipal, historical, social, civic values of and uses for the properties. The committee refrained, though, from evaluating whether current or future uses and values justify town ownership, believing that was "a decision to be made by the voters."

"I really would like people to read the report, and they can make their own evaluations," said Sheldon. "We've tried very hard to supply the report and let the taxpayers make their own decisions."

Ultimately, the committee shied away from making any recommendations on keeping the property. Members did recommend, however, that should 4 Union St., stay public, its uses be re-evaluated periodically, with town ownership and the "non-municipal" uses of the building being taken back to the voters for review every five years. It goes on to note that if the property is sold, its "integrity as a historic building" should be protected, likely through a historic preservation easement.

The committee also recommended that the town study finding some further public use for the empty lot, such as farmers' market or a community garden.

The building at 4 Union St., designed by Chase Whitcher (1876-1940), a prominent New Hampshire architect who designed more than 300 structures during his career, was initially built in 1930 to serve as Pembroke's fire and police station, housing three fire trucks with the police offices in the basement. The fire department moved into a new station in 1976, after which the building was converted for police use until the town's safety complex was built in 2004.

The town voted to retain public ownership of the properties in 2005, after architectural studies and public discussion in 2004. It was kept at the time to protect the building as a historical structure, produce income through leasing the property and nurture downtown business. It also was to provide a civic and social meeting place and offer a fireproof vault for the storage of historical objects and records.

The building also has been placed on National Register of Historical Places as a part of the Suncook Village Commercial District.

A 2004 evaluation by Peterborough architect Richard Monahon, who was instrumental in the Candia Smyth Memorial Building renovation project, which recently failed at the town vote, found the building to be in "excellent structural condition, requiring relatively little immediate maintenance." Monahon died in a Hillsborough car accident in January.

Since 2004, the town has spent a little more than $42,000 in maintenance on the building, or a little over $4,700 a year. The most extensive work included a $10,100 rubber membrane roof applied over "rigid insulation," an $8,000 complete remodeling of the lower lever conducted by the sewer commission "in lieu of initial rent," and $5,890 in masonry repairs.

According to the report, expected future maintenance and upgrades include rooftop water flow control, repairs to concrete on the south and west sides of the building (estimated at $6,400 for the south side and $1,500 for the west), replacement of the boiler to increase heating efficiency, wood repairs (estimated at $9,200), and various code, safety and efficiency upgrades "as necessary."

The committee also included taxpayers and members at large Marie Brezosky, Teresa Brown, Marilyn Watson and Raymond Foss; Dana Carlucci of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Building and Grounds Committee; volunteer firefighter and Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Farley; James Garvin, historian and state architectural historian with the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources until 2011; Charles Schmidt of the Pembroke Fire Department and N.H. Department of Transportation; and budget committee members Daniel Crean and Gerard Fleury.

The report was released in mid-February. It is available in full on the town website, www.pembroke-nh.com.

The Pembroke Town Meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Pembroke Academy auditorium.

bclogston@newstote.com

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