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Bradford Town Hall in limbo after vote

Union Leader Correspondent

March 19. 2018 9:56PM
Bradford's Town Hall is uninhabitable and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future after voters nixed a $1.3 million bond request to get the building back to working order. (Ryan O'Connor/Union Leader Correspondent)

A chain-link fence prevents residents from approaching Bradford's Town Hall, which has been closed since 2011. (Ryan O'Connor)

BRADFORD — Town officials have been left scrambling after residents rejected a $1.3 million bond request to renovate the community’s historic town hall.

The article, which would have had a tax impact of 40 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, failed by a ballot vote of 99-78 at last Wednesday’s Town Meeting. It needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

It was the sixth year in a row that a financial request to fund Town Hall renovations appeared on the Bradford Town Warrant, and the second time in three years voters rejected such an initiative.

Last year, however, residents approved a $861,000 plan, $675,000 of which was bonded, while the remainder was generated through a grant and donations.

It was after the fact that town officials realized the request was far short of the necessary funding to get at least the first floor of the building back to usable condition.

“We just didn’t have enough information and didn’t realize the amount of structural work that needed to be done until they got under the building,” said Bradford Town Administrator Karen Hambleton.

“Part of how we got to the $861,000 was really trimming things down to a bare-bones list of what we thought we had to do,” she said. “It obviously wasn’t as thorough as it needed to be.”

Hambleton said the town has since changed architects and solicited advice from the New Hampshire Fire Marshal’s office. Using funds from the 2017 bond, the town has already installed 10,260 linear feet of lumber, or 1.95 miles worth of wood, and eight tons of structural steel, in addition to 263 cubic yards of foundational concrete.

The town hall, originally built in 1797 as a one-story meeting house, was moved to the current town center and raised to a two-story building in 1863. In 1905, an addition was added to the back side of the structure.

But it has been vacant since 2011, when mold concerns forced officials out of the building and into the town’s community center in what was thought at the time to be a temporary fix. Nearly eight years later, Hambleton said Bradford selectmen are still trying to find a solution agreeable to voters.

Many resident’s at last Wednesday’s Town Meeting voiced their frustrations, said Hambleton.

“I think a lot of it was sticker shock,” she said. “They had a lot of questions. They thought the $861,000 was going to take care of it.”

Hambleton said selectmen, with the help of the Town Hall Restoration Oversight Committee, have explored several alternatives to renovating the building, including knocking down the existing structure and starting anew at the existing site or finding a new location.

All other viable options, she said, carry a higher price tag.

Still, the reality is that even had the $1.3 million been approved, it was only enough to bring the first floor up to code.

The second floor, said Hambleton, is likely to cost an additional $800,000 or more.

While selectmen, in the months to come, attempt to chart a course for the next step, Hambleton said the Town Hall will be “moth-balled.”

“Some backfilling needs to take place around the building so that it can be safely left vacant for the next couple years while we come up with plan to deal with all the issues,” she said, “so we’re moving into the buttoning-up phase for the building, and we’re in the process of identifying exactly what that means.”

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