SWANSEA — Town officials are pumping the brakes on a plan to move town offices into space at the former Swansea Mall, citing legal issues they say would make the move impossible.
“In aiming to answer all of the questions raised, in performing our due diligence, and during the negotiations and legal review, we have found we are legally unable to move forward with this proposal and that we cannot, in good faith, continue to prepare terms and conditions for a contract with the Proposer,” the Board of Selectmen said in an announcement on Tuesday.
Officials had been moving ahead with a plan to move town offices out of Town Hall, the Town Hall Annex and the Council on Aging building and consolidate them all in one location at the Swansea Mall, which has been largely unused since it closed in 2019. The warrant for the Nov. 2 meeting includes a vote on whether the town should spend $5.4 million to purchase the space.
But, the selectmen said in their announcement that they now plan to make a motion to postpone that article and two others related to the project indefinitely.
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Selectmen said they learned while negotiating with SM Management LLC, which owns 262 Swansea Mall Drive, that there were legal complications with the property that would prevent them from creating a dedicated driveway and entryway to what would be the town’s portion of the building and to making repairs to a road leading to the property.
“As we received varying answers to our inquiries about the cost of construction, legal issues were identified,” they said.
Town Administrator Mallory Aronstein said on Wednesday she was “not able to elaborate on that at this time” beyond what was included in the announcement.
The change in plans means that three informational sessions planned for this week about the project are canceled. The Special Town Meeting, which has 11 articles on the warrant in total, will go ahead as planned at 7 p.m. at Joseph Case High School on Monday, Nov. 1.
This isn’t the first roadblock for efforts to address the town’s aging office spaces. Three years ago, a Special Town Meeting voted against spending $9.5 million to construct a new Town Hall by a vote of 202 to 136. Town officials say the current spaces are too small and have serious structural problems including compromised foundations, damaged roofs and asbestos.
“This cancellation in no way reflects our thoughts on the merits of the proposal, the financial sense the proposal makes, the capability and well-meaning intentions of the developers, and the sincere and dire need for municipal office space that is a safe, code-compliant, and a healthy workplace that can provide quality governmental services to our community,” the selectmen wrote.
Audrey Cooney can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.