OTIS — The article on the May 21 Town Meeting warrant says a new town annex building would cost $4.5 million, but that number could change based on construction costs and on whether voters want a larger building.

At a public information meeting on May 14, Eric Young, an architect with Dietz & Company Architects of Springfield, said the expected cost of the 5,500-square-foot one-story building, to be built across the driveway from the Town Hall at 1 N. Main Rd., is $4.77 million, but that includes spending a 12% contingency budget and absorbing a projected 5% inflation in costs by the time work begins. Those numbers could come down.

Meanwhile, most speakers at the meeting acknowledged that the two tenants envisioned for the building, the Police Department and community groups using a multi-purpose room, need the space. But they also said other town departments need space, and it might make sense to build a larger annex to meet additional needs.

Police Chief Chris McDonough said the town badly needs a real police station. Otis Police currently use two rooms in the Town Hall—one of them described by the fire chief as a “remodeled ladies’ room.” There is no secure evidence room in Otis, nor is there a secure and recorded booking area. That opens the town to liability for lawsuits from arrestees alleging police abuse or some other violation of procedure. When interviewing witnesses or crime victims, police have to turn on a white noise machine to avoid being overheard in adjacent town offices. Otis police have no locker rooms.

Because McDonough is also the police chief in Becket, he processes all Otis arrests at the Becket police station.

The proposed annex also includes a 1,000-square-foot multipurpose room, with its own separate entrance and two bathrooms. This room would be used for community events and open to any department or group that wished to book it, officials said. Exercise equipment would likely be set up at one end of the room. The room would alleviate demand on the community room at Town Hall.

Diane Provenz said rather than building a new structure to fix some of Otis’ space needs, the town should craft a plan to address all of its needs, and assess whether existing vacant structures in town could be repurposed for municipal use. She specifically mentioned the former Berkshire Bank branch at 30 E. Otis Rd., asking if it might be useful as a new police station.

“Before we spend $5 million on a project, let’s look at our whole needs,” Provenz said.

Several attendees also asked if Harmony Hall, the historical meetinghouse on North Main Road, could be reopened. The hall closed for the COVID-19 pandemic and has been shut since then, said Selectmen Chair Larry Southard. Like the library and churches next door, it doesn’t have potable water, but its problems don’t stop there.

“Harmony Hall is a mess,” he said. “The water situation is a mess. The roof is asbestos. It’s a building that is really in disrepair. We got away with using it for a while, but it’s really done, in my opinion.”

“The building isn’t safe,” agreed Selectman Therese Gould.

The community room in the proposed annex building is intended to take the place of Harmony Hall, town officials said.

Former Selectman Bill Hiller spoke against the annex plan as it stands, but said he’d be “more open to spending a little more money” if a larger annex building would address more of the town’s needs.

Young said it wouldn’t be hard to modify the design to accommodate a few more offices. Gould said that “none of this is written in stone” and “we are not finished figuring out how thing are going to work.” She said if voters provide a larger budget, town officials can include more town departments in the plan.

If voters approve the $4.5 million plan as presented on May 21, and also a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion ballot question in the town election on May 28, the town will be authorized to borrow the money needed for the project, and taxes will rise to pay off the bonds. Town Administrator Brandi Page said the impact would be about 38 cents on the tax rate, or about $175 per year for the average single-family home assessed at $461,000. She also said the town will apply for grants to reduce the cost to local taxpayers as much as possible.

Other articles

Other articles on the Town Meeting warrant for May 21 include approving the $6.7 million town budget for fiscal year 2025; requiring homeowners to register any short-term rental properties, and have them inspected by the town’s zoning officer; borrowing $450,000 to purchase a new four-wheel-drive truck and snowplow for the Highway Department; spending $300,000 on road repair on Algerie Road; spending $150,000 on the preservation of the East Otis School House, contingent on receiving a state grant of $100,000 for the project, $50,000 of which will be refunded to the town; and spending $150,000 to design a new public library, contingent upon receiving a state grant to fund construction of the building.

Town Meeting voters will also consider a citizen petition to adopt the Community Preservation Act, which would add a surcharge of 1% on most property tax bills, and set that money aside in a special account to be spent only on historical preservation, open space conservation, recreation or affordable housing projects. The first $100,000 of residential and some commercial properties, as well as residences of people meeting certain low-income standards, and industrial properties, would be exempt from the surcharge

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