Petition aims to stimulate discussion on historic West Newbury building | Local News
WEST NEWBURY – A man who has started a petition to end the extra spending on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial said his goal is to spark a citywide conversation about how the aging Gothic Revival building is should be used after the restore is complete.
A citizens’ petition, signed by Walter Burmeister and 10 other voters, is the last of 24 articles on a mandate for the city’s annual meeting on Saturday. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. in the parking lot near the community bandstand, 381 Main Street.
The petitioners seek “a defined and productive use” of the building. Last fall, the city provided $ 1.85 million in Community Preservation Act funding for restoration.
The Finance Committee opposed the spending, providing for an additional $ 16,800 per year in operating expenses spread over the projected 30-year life of the project. This brings the total cost to taxpayers to $ 2.3 million, Burmeister said, noting that despite the price, the city has yet to identify official use of the space.
Previous usage suggestions included a small event venue with upstairs offices, possibly for the Parks and Recreation Department; affordable housing for veterans; a visitors and information area with a city museum; or a public media center funded with money for access to cable television.
But Burmeister argues that the estimated rental fees, coupled with insurance costs and a lack of adequate parking, would discourage occasional use.
“For the city to break even, a qualified party would have to enter into a long-term contract of about $ 6,500 per month,” he said, and the tenant would have to take out a liability policy covering $ 1 million. dollars per event. or $ 2 million in total.
He said the city had many other places to spend the money, citing a list compiled by the Public Works Department detailing $ 1,629,250 in unfunded projects for the Page School.
The work may be eligible for Community Preservation Act funding, if it is still available.
Noting a repeated effort in recent years to reduce the 3% surtax under the law, Burmeister said: “If nearly three years of CPA funding is wasted on renovating a building that remains vacant, there is will have a renewed effort to get rid of. of this supplement. “
City manager Angus Jennings said the city plans to revise the rental policy and fee structure. Insurance certificates would still be required.
“The policy changes would happen long before the building is fully restored, but I wouldn’t be inclined to do so until the construction bidding process is complete and a contractor is underway. “, did he declare.
The tender on the project would likely take place in June and July, with a construction contract awarded in August, according to architects from Spencer & Vogt Group.
While he understands wanting to save historic sites, Burmeister said he believes investing in the present and the future is more important than spending the city’s limited resources to commemorate the past.
Jennings pointed out that the Soldiers and Sailors Project was never designed to be financially self-sustaining.
“I would be very surprised if the rental fees generated almost came to cover the costs of restoring and operating the building … and I don’t know of any official who would have said that would happen,” he said.
The historic building at 363 Main Street was built as a Civil War Memorial in 1900 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
At least seven West Newbury soldiers died during the Civil War, with 250 Civil War veterans buried in city cemeteries, according to Bob Janes of the Historical Commission.
Voters accepted the property as a gift to the 2015 general meeting and agreed to spend $ 99,000 in CPA funding to stabilize it.
Jennings consulted with the bond attorney on what would happen if the petition article was approved.
“If it were to pass and the Special Committee passed a resolution to establish a defined use – or uses – for the building, that would satisfy the requirement of the article and allow the project to continue moving forward,” he said. he declared. Monday.
While Burmeister understands the urge to preserve a building built to honor local soldiers who fought in the Civil War, he offers a different perspective as a veteran himself.
“Honor my service by lowering my taxes so that I can still afford to live here,” he said.