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Quincy City Hall renovations raise eyebrows

Quincy city councilors said they were “stunned’’ to hear that $295,000 of a bond intended for energy-efficiency improvements had been used to pay for the relocation and renovation of the city clerk’s office from Old City Hall to the nearby Munroe Building.

The move came shortly after engineers told city officials in February 2011 that the original City Hall structure was in too poor condition to continue to be used on a daily basis.

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By early fall, the Old City Hall portion was empty for the first time in 167 years of continuous governance, and all the city’s offices and inner workings had been moved to either the newer annex or to a $180,000-a-year rented space across the courtyard.

Funding for that rented facility’s renovation did not come into play until Monday, when councilors discovered that $295,000 of the $32.8 million bond issued in 2007 for Honeywell Energy upgrades had been used on renovations, equipment, and improvements to the space.

Money from the Honeywell project - meant to provide energy upgrades to city buildings - had been in escrow, pending litigation in court over whether the project had been finished.

Although several city officials said the construction work technically fell under the purview of the bond, councilors were not pleased.

“The Honeywell borrowing was done under a broad framework that happened under an energy-saving plan. . . . How do we go from that to renovating City Hall?’’ Councilor Brian McNamee said.

Councilor Douglas Gutro agreed. “I’m flabbergasted, quite frankly, at the utilization of this Honeywell escrow account unrelated to any energy efficiency improvements. It may be legally permissible, but I’m extraordinarily surprised,’’ he said.

Gutro noted that taking money out of the account for the improvements, with a plan to replenish them with a later bond dedicated to City Hall renovations, was probably the best course of action. However, bypassing the City Council was objectionable, he said.

The discussion soon turned toward the $18 million in renovations planned for Old City Hall and the Coddington School. The city hopes that most of the money will come from Community Preservation Act funds.

According to Christopher Walker, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Koch, of the $1 million in expected debt-service costs per year, $900,000 would come from CPA funds. Although that money typically comes with restrictions, Walker said he is confident the city can secure the funding for debt service. The remaining $100,000 would be added to the city’s budget.

Although the City Hall renovations - an estimated $8.2 million for a “soup to nuts’’ renovation of one of the city’s most valued resources - is in line with estimates from a year ago, Coddington School renovations have ballooned from the $1.5 million renovation planned in the city’s capital improvement plan to a $9.2 million project.

“Once we had the architects on board to look at the building, it was clear that this wasn’t a $1 million fix,’’ Walker said.

The $1.5 million initially planned for Coddington would instead be used for roof repairs that came in higher than anticipated.

Although the Coddington renovation would eliminate the need for the school to lease the NAGE building for approximately $460,000 annually, Gutro questioned the need for such an extensive renovation when there was not a true historical value to the building.

Gutro asked for the numbers on a tear-down, build-up option to compare with the $9.2 million renovation. However, Walker noted that the building has demolition restrictions.

“The mayor made a pragmatic decision to say we found the money, [we can] put it together, and make it a functional space,’’ Walker said.

Plans for City Hall’s renovations also have changed a bit. Drawings show ample meeting space in a revised City Hall, but no clerk’s office, which is a part of a larger plan to move around several functions between City Hall and Coddington, project engineers said.

With so many projects on line, Councilor Margaret Laforest suggested that the city was in dire need of a preservation planner.

Walker said it was something the mayor would be looking into, but that the current plan was constructed thoughtfully and with a long-term perspective in mind.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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