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Foxborough’s Town Hall plan receives another setback

A request by Foxborough leaders for the $550,000 needed to design a new town hall fell short at Special Town Meeting on Monday, putting supporters of the long-debated municipal facility back at square one.

Although residents did approve the warrant article by a vote of 117-116, a two-thirds majority was needed to authorize spending the money, officials said.

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The small turnout and negative decision are a disappointment, selectmen chairman Mark Sullivan said Tuesday, seeing that just 240 of the town’s 10,500 registered voters attended the meeting.

“I guess it just comes down to taxation and money, and people have had enough,’’ Sullivan said. “I don’t think anyone disagrees that it is needed, but people are hurting, and they have no spare change.”

Selectmen and members of the town’s permanent municipal building committee have pushed the effort to replace the cramped and leaky 50-year-old South Street town hall with a more spacious, modern facility on the same site.

But the Advisory Committee — which recommends or rejects support of such articles — could not agree, its 4-4 tie ultimately dooming the Town Meeting article. The committee’s vote was based on a report that the project, estimated to cost around $8 million, would actually come in closer to $11 million, all told.

An ad hoc committee of retired professionals has said for years that renovation of the existing town hall is the way to go. Member Richard Heydecker, a retired architect, has continually made the case that the town did not complete even the most basic of repairs to lengthen the building’s life.

The building, at almost 7,000 square feet, has asbestos-lined pipes, a leaky roof and walls, and its ceiling panels contain lead dust from a former police shooting range in the basement.

The proposed new building, at about 17,000 feet, meanwhile, had been pegged by some opponents as “the Taj Mahal.”

A 2011 vote for design funds was postponed so proponents could make a better case, and a similar request last December was pulled from the Special Town Meeting warrant for the same reason. Discussions ramped up again in July after rain flooded the building’s lower level and employees’ work spaces had to be moved to a ground-floor conference room.

Selectmen had hoped to get approval to transfer the design funds from the town’s stabilization account and request the full construction amount to a May Town Meeting.

On Tuesday, however, Sullivan said Monday’s vote shows that a new town hall is not a priority for voters, and officials will now discuss steps to move employees somewhere else.

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