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Foxborough

Foxborough town hall could relocate to old post office building

Foxborough’s new town hall could go into a repurposed old building downtown: the soon-to-be-closed US Postal Service building.

Town officials last week decided not to ask the Dec. 11 Town Meeting for $500,000 to design a new municipal building, so that they may explore buying the post office and turning it into town hall.

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If a purchase of the 21,000-square-foot building at 15 Wall St. is feasible, the cost could be several million dollars less than building a new facility, estimated at close to $9 million, Town Manager Kevin Paicos said.  

In a June announcement, Charles K. Lynch, district manager for the Greater Boston postal district, said the mail distribution facility in Foxborough will be closed and sold, with the town’s carrier routes potentially shifted to the Mansfield post office.

To maintain local services, including post office boxes, a postal storefront will be opened in Foxborough, Lynch said.

Last week, Foxborough officials were invited to tour the mail facility, and a majority of the town’s 11-member Advisory Committee – which makes recommendations on municipal spending requests – said it will urge voters to take no action on the $500,000 design request at the upcoming Town Meeting until the postal facility option can be vetted.

The current town hall, at 14,000 square feet, is cramped and moldy with asbestos-lined pipes, a leaky roof, and lead dust in the ceiling panels from a former police shooting range in the basement. Studies have been ongoing for years on how to best address the building’s woes.

Paicos was among the local officials and residents who participated in the walk-through.

“It looks like it would be more than adequate,’’ he said. “But it does require repair and a substantial investment to retrofit it into an office building.”

Still, it is in a good location, is solid, and would cost less to redo than it would to build a new building at the site of the current municipal building at 40 South St., once it is knocked down. And, he said, a storefront post office would fit right in.

Resident and retired architect Dick Heydecker, part of an ad-hoc group of professionals looking at Town Hall options who say the town ignored a $5 million renovation option and went straight to plans to build new, said he’s glad to see another notion on the table. But after taking the post office tour, he said the facility’s biggest problem is that it’s just too big.

He suggested other municipal services could perhaps share the building; the Senior Center, for example, needs larger meeting space.

Heydecker said he has asked town officials not to duplicate efforts. “Don’t build two’’ facilities, he said. “They can share. What we need is a long-term plan.”

Foxborough residents were to vote on building a new town hall last year, but that vote was postponed so officials could make a better case. Many residents and officials at the time said a bad economy was no time to get into another large capital improvement project, following several significant expenditures, including the library rehab and a new water treatment plant.

Selectmen chairman James DeVellis said the land and building costs associated with the post office building were unknowns at present, and it’s not clear whether it would be appropriate for use as town hall. “But the town feels this option should be looked at as well as looking at alternate funding options’’ for a new building, he said.

Meanwhile, some local officials, including members of the Advisory Committee, say they are concerned about paying to design a building before it’s clear the town can afford to build it.

At one point, selectmen had hoped to use a $1 million surplus from the $20 million Foxborough High School renovation project to help pay for the new town hall. But school officials also wanted to use that money for a $3 million, two-phased athletic turf complex that has been in the planning stages since 2008.  

The turf initiative has several private grants in hand that are due to expire if not used, prompting supporters to push harder for its go-ahead.

Last week, though, the Advisory Committee voted 9-3 against recommending the turf measure to voters, concluding that the town has other more pressing capital needs, as well as maturing debt to pay.

DeVellis, who also heads the community group Turf’s Up, which is leading the effort, said he sees the merits of both sides of the issue. Financial considerations are clearly important, he said, but the turf project would benefit the whole town, especially high school athletes who have no home field and are bused to other locations for games. “I cannot fault either group for their positions,’’ DeVellis said.

Paicos, who does not live or vote in Foxborough, said he supports the turf project, “and I certainly recommend it.”

Town Meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the High School auditorium, will also address police, fire, and highway contracts, as well as a measure legislating the length of time employees can take off if they choose to be organ donors.

E-mail Michele Morgan Bolton at michelebolton@live.com.
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