Granby voters OK $5.3M to rehab old school into space for town offices, senior center

Voters at a special Town Meeting on Monday approved a $5.3 million project to renovate the West Street Building into space for town offices and a senior center.

Voters at a special Town Meeting on Monday approved a $5.3 million project to renovate the West Street Building into space for town offices and a senior center. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 12-13-2023 12:39 PM

Modified: 12-13-2023 2:05 PM


GRANBY — After 13 years, Granby will finally have a dedicated town hall.

A majority of voters at a special Town Meeting on Monday approved spending roughly $5.36 million to renovate the old West Street Building, the former elementary school, into town government offices and a Council on Aging senior center. In addition to consolidating town offices from the Annex and creating space for the senior center, the project calls for removal of a precarious oil tank from the basement that, if found leaking, could scuttle the entire project.

“But you put all these things together and this looks like a wonderful thing for Granby, and it’s an opportunity which I would hate to see us pass by,” said Finance Committee Chair John J. Libera Jr.

The planned renovations will keep the structure at 44,000 square feet and bring the building up to code. The allotted money will pay for an HVAC system, a fire suppression system, asbestos removal, PCB removal, new windows and doors, carpeting, painting and the oil tank removal.

Approval of the project comes a year before the town’s lease with the Annex expires. The owner is looking to sell the building, so the town offices in the basement need relocating. The town needs 16,054 square feet of space to accommodate all town offices, which takes up only 36% of the West Street Building. Micheline Turgeon, a member of the West Street Building Committee, said a community center, teen space and other town employees such as the town planner and conservation agent will use the balance of the square footage.

Initial plans call for the former first grade and kindergarten class wing to become town offices, while the kitchen and cafeteria will become the Senior Center, which is a larger space than the Council on Aging’s current home on West State Street.

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Property taxes will not increase as a result of the project, as the town is using American Rescue Plan Act funds and leftover money from past capital projects.

“We’re starting with how much funds are available, and then from there proceeding to build, rather than saying, ‘Let’s start from scratch and put up everything we wanted in a building to see what it costs,’” Libera said.

However, Monday’s decision could be rendered moot if the single-wall underground oil tank in the old school is leaking. The state Department of Environmental Protection required the removal of underground oil tanks in commercial buildings in 2010, but the tank has not been removed. While the West Street Building Committee includes removal cost in the budget, Libera said funds will not cover a costly cleanup from a leaky oil tank.

“The town is still responsible for the removal of the oil tank,” Turgeon said. “No matter the outcome of the project or the property, the tank must be removed, bottom line.”

Town officials did not bring in a professional to check the tank for leaksbefore the special Town Meeting. Town Administrator Christopher Martin, however, said he’s confident the tank is not leaking based on observations from the town’s oil supplier, who said the amount of oil in the tank measured the same in spring and fall.

“And I did talk informally with a retired engineer, and he seemed to think the soils there are maybe more clay than sand, and clay would retain or stop any potentially leakage that could escape from the site,” he added.

Opponents of the project expressed concerned that money put forth for a new town hall would be delegated for a different purpose without their permission. Town voter Lisa Petraglia proposed an amendment to the motion that deletes all financial transfers, and instead uses $1.8 million in ARPA funds to remove the tank and hire a designer to draft building schematics with concrete estimates for the next Town Meeting.

However, town moderator Lynn Mercier said the amendment detailed a different project than the one on the warrant and could not be voted on.

Voters also inquired into specifics regarding the budget and building’s condition. Turgeon explained the West Street Building Committee received some inspections and cost estimates for renovations, including a quote on the sprinkler system from Fire Tech or a air quality test from MassDEP. However, town officials did not know the condition of everything in the building, nor the cost for aesthetic improvements like carpeting.

“Did anybody check the septic system and see what shape that’s in, because that’s going to be a major problem if that’s not operational,” citizen Paul Piquette said. “That’s a big issue in this vote here because if that septic system isn’t up to code, it’s going to cost an exorbitant amount of money to replace.”

West Street Building Committee members reiterated throughout the meeting that the old school building was structurally sound and needed minimal renovations. David LaPlante asked where the budget included funding for office construction and not just room renovations. Committee members replied that the existing office equipment in the Annex and COA will furnish the new rooms.

“We’re doing soft renovation. So we’re not going to be knocking down walls or anything like that,” committee member Jim Trompke said. “We’re going to use pretty much the space as is with the exception of making it safe and removing all the hazards.”

Despite concerns, many voters supported the project after years of operating without a town hall.

“It is essential that we have a town hall,” Seamus Connolly said. “I don’t want to be like having to walk up a big hill just to do my taxes or to do this or that. I think we need it in one building.”

Robert Mikolajczyk joked that transforming the old school building into the town hall allows many of the residents to file taxes at their alma mater.

“Now you can bring your grandkids when you go to pay your taxes and say, ‘Hey, you know this was my classroom,’” he said.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.