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Home away from home


Sturbridge town offices to stay in temporary facilities at OSV a bit longer


December 30, 2009
STURBRIDGE — Nobody looks forward to moving — the packing, the backbreaking lifting, or the sea of boxes to wade through at a new location. In Sturbridge, town employees have been spared from that gargantuan task for an extra four months.

With the lease between the town and Old Sturbridge Village for use of the Village's lodging suites as municipal offices while the Town Hall and Center Office are undergoing renovations set to expire in April 2010, Interim Town Administrator Michael Racicot announced recently that an extension to that lease was agreed upon. This means the offices will stay in their current location through the middle of August.

The additional four months will cost $20,000 on top of the $60,000 the town paid for the initial 12 months of the lease.

Town officials decided to extend their stay after the originally predicted completion date for the renovation project of next spring was deemed infeasible.

Since the project began in April, the expected completion date has slowly been pushed back due to unexpected complications that have crept up during the $5 million renovation process. The date was first pushed back to June, and now officials are hoping for completion by the end of July.

"We're currently looking at a schedule where we'll be done with the construction by the end of July, middle of July," Racicot said.

The major setback that has impacted the progress of work is structural instability of the foundations of the buildings, which have cumulatively stood in Sturbridge for more than 300 years.

Beneath the Town Hall where conditions were the worst, a portion of the foundation, closest to the rear parking lot, was constructed from stacked fieldstones — some without mortar to hold them together.

According to clerk of the works for the project, Bud Black, the foundations required extensive underpinning, or stabilization, to secure the load bearing portions of the buildings.

Also slowing the process was the decision to change what was planned as a plywood and asphalt roof on the Town Hall to a slate roof, as was planned for the Center Office.

Between money included in the original project cost specifically allotted for change orders and Community Preservation funds used for the roof, although the project is running slightly over time, is still right on budget.

"So far we're OK, knock on wood," Racicot said. "We had a couple thousand in contingency monies and we're still under that."

With winter in full swing, Racicot said even if everything else goes according to plan, the unpredictability of New England weather will have an effect on completion of the project too.

"There's just little things, weather related things that are hitting us at this point," Racicot said on Wednesday. "We lost a day yesterday because of the brutal wind, the roofers and the masons couldn't work."

Once shoring of the back end of Town Hall is complete and building can once again be sealed up, Racicot said the pace of the work should increase.

"Once the building's closed in, there's a lot more work that can take place," Racicot said.

Tentatively, Racicot said it appears the Center Office will be completed before the Town Hall, as the foundation was not quite as unstable, requiring less additional attention. Even if it is done first though, Racicot said, town employees will remain where they are until both buildings are ready for habitation.

"I think that's more cost effective than to try to bring movers out on two dif occasions," Racicot said. "Plus that might end up splitting up our operations, I wouldn't want to have four offices over there and the rest over here, it could cause coordination problems."

According to Jim Donahue, president and CEO of Old Sturbridge Village, some thought may go into reestablishing a permanent use for the lodges, though nothing is in the works yet.

"It's been great having the town there," Donahue said. "We're glad that we were able to provide the space, and my sense is that once the town leaves we probably will begin to think about what, if anything, we want to consider."

Donahue said for now, "Our focus continues to be here at the museum itself," indicating that no one has formally began any kind of dialogue about what will become of the lodges after August.

"We have nothing definitive right now," Donahue said.

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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