SWANSEA — Town leaders are hoping to spend $5.1 million to buy space at the Swansea Mall and relocate town offices there, with a Town Meeting vote on the issue planned for early November.
“We can’t fit into (Town Hall anymore. We’re bursting at the seams,” said Town Administrator Mallory Aronstein, speaking at an August meeting of the Town Hall Building Committee.
Town officials say the current Town Hall is too small, with no mail room, a serious lack of meeting space and no private space for potentially personal conversations, including for the town nurse and veterans’ agent. Aronstein said it’s even difficult to bring people in for interviews because of lack of space, and some town hall workers have left and listed the state of the office space as one reason for their departure.
“We’re growing. We’re trying to add people… it’s just not working out. We don’t have enough space to do that,” she said.
Expensive “Band-Aid” repairs like abatement for hazardous materials including asbestos and lead, compromised foundations and leaky roofs on the aging buildings that include town hall offices are piling up. Just to bring the Annex alone up to code could cost between $2 and $2.4 million, Aronstein said.
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“I could see visibly all the places in which light was coming through the foundation (during a recent trip to the Annex’s basement,” she said.
The move would consolidate town services currently spread over three buildings —Town Hall, the Town Hall Annex building on Stevens Road and the current Council on Aging building on Ocean Grove Avenue — into one location, cutting down on overhead costs and allowing residents who have business with town offices do what Aronstein called “one stop shopping.” The plan includes selling two town properties — the Town Hall Annex and the Council on Aging building — and combining all those offices into one space.
Aronstein called the current Town Hall, built in 1890, “priceless” and said the town should keep it in its possession and work to get it added to a historical registry. It could potentially be converted to something like an event hall, community space or training area. They could subdivide the lot the Annex sits on so the Swansea Animal Shelter would not be affected, Aronstein said. The land the Annex sits on could be sold off for housing or turned into a community garden.
Town officials looked at two different locations on the Swansea Mall property. In July, the Board of Selectmen voted to move forward in pursuing space at 262 Swansea Mall Drive.
The Swansea Mall has been largely unused since it closed in 2019. A redevelopment project is underway.
The Swansea Mall proposal would cost less than the other proposal, coming in at $5,122,675 versus $4,970,000. Unlike the other proposal, is would come with brand new office space that would be ready to use right away, unlike the other proposed space.
The town plans to utilize some of its free cash to buy to space, meaning the move would not come with increased property taxes for residents.
Efforts to find a solution to the aging Town Hall have been in the works for years. In 2018, a Special Town Meeting voting against spending $9.5 million to construct a new Town Hall building by a vote of 202 to 136.
A special town meeting is planned for Monday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. at Joseph Case High School to vote on whether to allocate $5.1 million in town money for the move.
There will be three public forums over the next month to discuss the proposal, with meetings planned for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Case High School, 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21 at the Council on Aging and at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21, at the police station.
Audrey Cooney can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.