NEWBURY — As the saying goes “it takes a village,” and in Newbury’s case, not only to raise a child, but to raise a building.
With the town’s perennially tenuous budget-balancing act — and the defeat of two consecutive Proposition 2½ override proposals, $950,000 last spring and $293,000 in May — officials have turned to community kindness, rather than the tight public coffers, to perform much-needed municipal repair projects.
During the past several weeks, volunteers from Newbury and beyond have donated time, expertise, money, and materials to renovate the Town Hall and library.
“There’s been overwhelming support,” said building inspector Sam Joslin, who has overseen the effort.
Work on the two-story, 2,400-square-foot Town Hall included replacing worn and weathered siding and rotted exterior trim; landscaping; rebuilding a retaining wall; and interior painting, reflooring and furniture updates.
“It was in pretty desperate need of a makeover,” said Joslin.
The exterior of the 14,000-square-foot library, meanwhile, is being repainted (the same color — gray with red trim).
Work on both buildings was expected to be completed last week, weather permitting.
More than a dozen local businesses, restaurants, and agencies came forward to offer labor crews, tree-removal and landscaping services, and materials such as paint and lumber. They included the Essex County sheriff’s office, Jackson Lumber and Millwork in Amesbury, and Hathaway Landscape Co. of Newbury. Plum Island Grille and Bob Lobster, both in Newbury, also donated food for the workers.
Greenscape Property and Building LLC of Newbury, for its part, shingled one side of the Town Hall and sheathed holes where air conditioners once jutted out, according to owner George Haseltine.
Brett Murphy of Newburyport-based Murphy Construction Company, meanwhile, supplied carpenters who spent three days replacing siding on one face of the building.
He called the response “tremendous,” noting that Newbury is a “close-knit community, and everybody wants to pitch in.”
Haseltine agreed, saying that, as a resident himself, he felt compelled to contribute.
“I believe that, in the economic climate that we are in, we all need to work hard to help each other out,” he said in an e-mail. “Now when people drive by or visit the Town Hall — either residents or nonresidents — they can appreciate the effort that many community members put forth.”
Donated or reduced-price labor and materials saved the town hundreds of thousands of dollars. Joslin estimates the Town Hall renovations would have cost between $150,000 and $200,000, and the library project would have had a price tag of about $62,000. But the town will pay just about $22,000 for both out of an account set aside for capital improvement projects.
“There’s a lot of willingness in this town,” said Joslin, seated in his Town Hall office on a recent afternoon, the building’s exterior still set up with staging and tarps, and its driveway partially covered with mounds of dirt and landscaping stones. “I don’t think we’ve found a way to focus that interest in a while.”
That energy was first directed to a shared purpose after Joslin, in 2008, closed the Department of Public Works facility because it was out of code and in disrepair.
Estimates of roughly $500,000 to rehabilitate it were “well out of the town budget,” he said. As a result, the building was left empty and the department “had no home for a couple of years.”
But then, people started coming forward to offer help — and within six months, all five garage doors had been repaired and the building was equipped with a new roof and gutters, as well as new wiring, windows, and heating, ventilation, and carbon monoxide detection systems. The project was completed in late 2010, and ended up costing the town about $150,000, Joslin said.
“The building was condemned — it was an extremely dramatic change,” he said. “It was pretty amazing that we had that much of a response.”
Town officials don’t expect to stop now. They have since reinstated a capital planning committee, and Joslin has taken on the role of facilities manager.
The next project? Tearing down and rebuilding a two-bay Department of Public Works garage.
The hope is to start this fall, or by the spring at the latest, depending on the availability and willingness of volunteers.
“With some cooperation, planning, and proper funding,” Joslin said, “we can do quite a bit.”