Foxborough’s building commissioner stormed into a Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, dropped a large, blue aluminum kayak before the officials, and demanded action on stalled discussions about a new Town Hall after a deluge of rain had again flooded the decrepit building’s lower level that morning.
“This was floating this morning in our basement,” William Casbarra said, about the boat that belongs to the town’s conservation department.
“I am disgusted,” he said, emotion shaking his voice. “This is no longer a joke.”
If not for the probability that he would be fired, Casbarra told the five-member board, he could by right issue an order to vacate the premises in 30 days, the situation has become so dire.
“Last year, you unanimously approved a new Town Hall,” he said. “But boom. Nothing gets done.”
In fact, the discussion about building a new town hall has dragged on for years. Most recently, a request for $500,000 in fees to design a new building was removed from the Dec. 11 Town Meeting warrant amid debate about whether it is better to renovate the existing South Street facility, build a new one, or wait for a better economy.
At the time, as a sort of stop-gap measure, the request was removed so officials could explore whether it was feasible to buy the town’s former post office at 15 Wall St. and turn it into Town Hall, with a storefront postal facility available to residents, as well. But that idea fizzled.
According to town officials, the current Town Hall, at 14,000 square feet, is moldy and cramped, with employees using all available space. Pipes are lined with asbestos, the roof and walls leak, and lead dust is in the ceiling panels, the result of the building having hosted a police shooting range in the basement.
Studies on how to best address the building’s woes have been ongoing for years, but when officials get close to action, questions about financing, need, or another capital expenditure have always taken precedence.
In 2011, Foxborough residents were poised to vote on building a new Town Hall, but that vote was postponed, officials said, so proponents could make a better case for passage.
Some residents and officials have said a poor economy is no time to get into another large capital improvement project, following several significant expenditures, including the rehab and expansion of the town’s Boyden Library, which reopened last week, and a new water treatment plant.
Residents also agreed recently to spend $1.6 million on the first phase of a new turf field complex at Foxborough High School. A second phase, at $1.8 million, could go before voters at a later date.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Casbarra and Acting Town Manager Robert Cutler told selectmen they had spent at least two hours that day, with the assistance of four others, using squeegees and vacuums to get water out of the basement so employees could get back to work.
The conditions have more than affected morale, they said.
“In fairness, the finance plan fell apart,” Selectman James DeVellis said, about the efforts that outgoing Town Manager Kevin Paicos proposed to make a new building happen.
“We could not pay for the plan this Town Hall came up with,” DeVellis said.
Foxborough’s finance director, Randy Scollins, vehemently disagreed with DeVellis’s assessment of the Paicos plan, which he had helped the manager to envision. He asserted that any effort to get a new building in place could succeed if selectmen would just show some leadership.
“We have seen six financial plans,’’ Scollins said. “I know it can work.”
For the short term, selectmen chairman Mark Sullivan directed Cutler to explore lease options, including potentially using the space that the Boyden Library just vacated at Chestnut Green. Sullivan and others agreed that it is important to get town operations out of the current Town Hall until a permanent solution can be found.
“I don’t mean to purchase, just to rent, until we can afford to build a new Town Hall,” Sullivan explained. “Everyone here wants to move forward.”
He asked Cutler to take the next month to come up with options. The issue will again be broached at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting, he said.
DeVellis, an engineer, said he will also help.