Stockholm Town Hall
The Town of Stockholm has had its office and court in the old Quonset building in Winthrop since the late 1960’s. The building was originally erected as a temporary school after a fire in 1948 and served the Town inexpensively for about 50 years, but it’s in need of a new roof and despite the best laid plans of the exterminators, the office staff is still visited periodically by snakes. In addition, it has been allowed to remain out of compliance with a number of standards. Repairing the roof and bringing the building up to standards was estimated to cost $525,000.
The Town Board determined that building a new Town Hall would be the most prudent course, and a committee was formed to look at potential sites around the Town for the new building. The demographics of the Town have the population concentrated in Winthrop and Sanfordville/West Stockholm areas and our first thought was to locate in Stockholm Center—roughly equidistant from both places—near the Town highway garage. In addition to not finding any land available, it also occurred to the committee that everyone except the few people in Stockholm Center would have to drive to the office.
When the old Key Bank building went on the market, the Committee looked at it but determined that it was too small for what we wanted to do. We could have added space, but it would have taken quite a bit of renovation to make it work. The Town was also offered a commercial garage in Winthrop, but that was quickly deemed unacceptable for similar reasons. As it happens, a parcel on the river in Winthrop went on the market and we were able, after 8 months of delay, to purchase it.
Over the summer of 2015, the Town released a Request for Expressions of Interest in designing the building. We received 3 excellent responses and have chosen Beardsley Design. As I write this on October 14, 2015, it’s early in the process. A basic topographic study has been done and the staff and committee have met with Beardsley to assess the needs of each of the staff members and the Council.
When we looked at what we wanted to accomplish with the new building, we looked at a number of things. First, we wanted to make sure that it was done as cost effectively as possible, not just in the construction, but in the long term operation. When the highway garage was expanded, the highway crew was able to contribute a significant amount of labor, bringing the actual cost to about $200,000, less than 50% of the project cost of $450,000. We had hoped to do that again but found that municipal law and the requirements of one of the most attractive funding agencies, USDA’s Community Facilities program, made it impossible to get that kind of savings.
The other significant cost of ownership of a building is operating expenses. To reduce operating expenses the designer will consider reducing maintenance cost as a key criteria. Another portion of operating expenses is energy. The building has to be lighted, heated, cooled and the computers and other office equipment powered. The Town is considering building a net-zero building, a building that produces enough electricity from solar panels to generate all its own power.
Net-zero buildings are designed to reduce heat loss through increased insulation and reduced air leakage, maximize natural lighting and use energy efficient lighting and equipment. The photo voltaic (PV) system that generates the power is then sized to generate the estimated power used by the building. The building remains attached to the power lines so that the building uses power from the grid during times when the PV system isn’t producing power—at night and when it’s cloudy—but puts power back into the grid when it’s sunny out. This is called “net-metering” and eliminates the need to put in massive battery systems to store the energy. It works cost effectively because the meter runs backwards when the system is overproducing power. This means that the power company is buying back the power we produce at the same retail price they are selling us power!
Before we adopt this approach, however, we will make financial projections to make sure that the money we save over the life of the system would more than pay for the extra cost.
In addition to housing the functions of Town government—Clerk, Board, Court, etc.—the Board looked into other things we do now and could do in the future. The current offices also houses the Town Historical Association’s extensive collection—a small museum really—in the old school gym. The plan is to include a basement under the offices that would serve as storage and give the Historian some heated space for records, etc.. The majority of the museum is unheated and the thought is that we could get volunteers to build an unheated structure on the site to serve this purpose.
The basement would also house, in the parlance of FEMA, an “Emergency Response Command Center” for the Town. This center would include communications equipment and would be part of a larger emergency response network that is now being established in the County.
The Town currently uses a single large room for the Court, the Boardroom and for all other public events. This is a cost effective approach and we plan on having a similar multipurpose room in the new building. We also plan on including space for a community kitchen which would be completed as a separate project if the need exists and it can be done economically.
What is a community kitchen and why should the Town want one? For better or worse, health regulations are becoming more and more stringent. It’s no longer possible to make jam in your kitchen and legally sell it to your neighbors; it has to be made in a “certified” kitchen. The Town has a number of small agricultural producers who could significantly increase their income by making “value added” products like maple sugar, jams and jellies, etc.
The Long View
The Town made due with the old Quonset for 50 years, now it’s time to look to the long run. The building we are designing we expect to last far longer, have lower operating costs and be flexible enough to meet the needs of the community that we cannot yet foresee. This is an ideal time to make this investment in the future of our Town.
The Town has looked into a number of options for financing the project: renting the building, selling bonds, or getting a USDA Community Facilities loan. We are hoping to keep our costs low by extending the length of the financing, but we are primarily focused on keeping the long term “life cycle” costs as low as possible.
One thing we are looking at to keep these costs down is a “net-zero energy” building. As noted above, these buildings are designed to limit energy utilization through increased insulation, low power lighting and high efficiency heating and cooling systems. The power needed for the building is provided by PV panels, probably on the roof. While the PV panels won’t provide all that’s necessary every minute, they will provide all that’s necessary on an annual basis. Through “net metering,” the power company will absorb the excess production during sunny days and give us credit for that power at the same rate we pay them for it. The total energy cost will be about the connection fee of about $17 a month. In fact, the Stockholm Town Hall may be the second net-zero Town Hall in the State.
The Town has done very well at avoiding debt. All our highway equipment is paid for and the only debt we are currently carrying is the bond on the Highway Garage addition. The Town will have to borrow money for this project, but the good news is that this is an ideal time to make this investment. Interest rates are lower than ever and will be fixed. Energy costs are also at an all-time low, lowering construction costs as well. As inflation once again starts to rise, the payment on the loan will stay the same. As energy costs rise, the Town Hall will be immune because it produces its own. Even looking at the costs without these factors, the project makes economic sense.
Once we get some initial site designs, we’ll start looking for financial help from government agencies like NYSERDA, FEMA, etc. We are also hoping to be able to do some of the finishing work ourselves to save some money and are looking for donations of material, use of equipment, etc. to lower the cost even further.
As we progress, we’ll let you know what’s going on with regular updates on our website and press releases. More than anything else, we want this project to serve you, the residents of the Town.