Selectmen Seek Breakdown Of Proposed Town Offices Lot Refurbishment

By: Tim Wood

The Chatham Chamber of Commerce information booth and the surrounding streetscape could be in for a remake under a proposal now before selectmen. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Selectmen may not be ready for the town to move forward with a $350,000 remake of the town offices parking lot and the surrounding streetscape.

The proposal, submitted as a separate capital expenditure article for the May annual town meeting, calls for resurfacing and relining of the parking lot – located in the heart of the Main Street shopping district – which could yield additional parking spaces. Drainage and lighting would be upgraded, and the steps that connect the lot to Main Street would be replaced. The project also includes a new foundation and/or a new chamber of commerce information booth building, as well as improvements to the surrounding area.

Both the parking lot and the sidewalk between the lot's Main Street entrance and Yankee Ingenuity are in need of repair, said Principal Projects and Operations Coordinator Terry Whalen. There are cracks, uneven surfaces and other defects that are “in need of attention,” he told selectmen last week.

The steps are uneven and don't meet current access codes and “really need to be replaced,” he said.

There's not a lot of space to move the information both, but the step into the small building, little more than a slab, is right on the sidewalk and often creates a bottleneck, Whalen said. Improving circulation is one aim of the project, though exactly how that will be done is uncertain. The work would also include improving the areas to either side of the information booth to accommodate memorial trees and benches as well as bicycle parking.

Staff from several departments developed the project to consolidate facilities, improve safety and access, and improve the building and grounds and functionality of the area, Whalen said. The work spread across several departments was folded into the one consolidated project.

If the project moves forward, design concepts for the area would be brought back to the board of selectmen for review, Whalen said. It would also require local permitting, including review by the historic business district commission.

But selectmen weren't thrilled with all aspects of the project. Chairman of Selectmen Jeffrey Dykens even wondered if the $350,000 being request was enough.

Selectman Cory Metters said sooner or later the chamber book is going to constitute an emergency. “It's a liability waiting to happen in my opinion,” he said specifically of the entrance onto the sidewalk. Dykens said he's seen people walk into the street because of the narrowness of the spot. Whalen thought a new foundation for the booth, moving the building slightly back from the sidewalk, could be done for “tens of thousands” of dollars without a design study. But given the steep grade between the parking lot and booth, it was thought that saving could be realized through economy of scale by doing the complete project.

Both Metters and Dykens suggested that aspects of the project could be prioritized and tackled individually.

“It's something I think we can address and get some bang for our buck,” said Metters.

Selectman Amanda Love agreed that the steps need replacing. “I've gone head over tea kettle on those stairs,” she said.

Selectman Seth Taylor said he thought the area was “still quite serviceable” and would rather see the measure moved to a future fiscal year.

Board members agreed that they'd like to see separate estimates on the different elements of the project and deferred action on the request until that information is available.