The town of Hull residents will vote at a special town meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 29, on a proposal to construct a new town municipal building and remodel the old structure into a community center at a cost of about $600,000.
All town residents 18 years and older can vote at the meeting to consider the construction project to alleviate problems in the existing structure.
The Hull municipal building has five functions, a center for representative democracy, a service center, a staff hub, a voting center and a community center, said Town Chair John Holdridge.
“We realized the building was inadequate and thought we might be able to get some (federal) stimulus money to construct a new building a few years ago,” he said.
Bill Yudchitz, a local architect, did some designs but the town was unable to progress on the plans before the stimulus program ended.
Holdridge said a major problem with the current building is insufficient size. The town can seat 34 people in the building because of fire codes, he said, and the town has a population of 5,500, so it has to use Stevens Point Area Senior High School for meetings when a large number of participants is anticipated.
The proposal is to add on about 3,200 square feet to the front of the existing center and gut the old portion of the building with 2,100 square feet, using that section to create a community center that would seat 150 to 200 persons. The community center could also serve as a polling place for larger elections, such as the presidential and gubernatorial races.
The community center could have multiple uses, he said, and the Portage County Aging and Disability Center and the Portage County Library could deliver programs there.
The median age of town citizens is getting older, he said, and the town will have more elderly who will utilize additional services.
Initially the Building Committee looked at joining the administrative function with the Fire Department, but the cost was estimated at about $3 million, Holdridge said, which town officials felt was too expensive.
Holdridge said the town started talking again about the project in winter, considering just the administrative function, and the initial plan was to put a second level on the building, but that cost was about $700,000, which was more than town officials wanted to spend.
Putting a one-story addition onto the front of the building will cost about $600,000, and the town will be able to continue doing repair and maintenance work in the garage which is on the north side of the existing building.
“We need a bigger meeting room,” Holdridge said. “We have always permitted citizen involvement in public policy.”
He pointed to some other problems in the building, such as windows almost falling out and the lack of a conference room, which led the town to install room dividers around desks and tables rather than partitioning the space.
The voting process for the town has been moved from the building to the Fire Department because of the lack of space, and a new building would allow the town to move that function back to the municipal building. Then voter registration can be held in the lobby, except for larger elections.
Town Clerk Janet Wolle said officials also have concerns about security in the present building, as well as handicapped accessibility, two issues that would be addressed in a new building.
Hull Board member Dave Pederson said the existing building was completed in 1978 and served almost 40 years before becoming overcrowded. “We’re hoping that what we are doing now will carry us another 40 or 50 years,” he said.
Wolle said she’s seen a lot of changes in those years, and remembers how happy the staff was when the building opened in 1978. “Before that we worked off tables and sat on catalogs and here we got desks,” she said.
Another major change, she said is computers, which weren’t around when the building was constructed.
Holdridge said he realizes the expense of a new building is on the minds of town property owners. The town has indebtedness of $120,000 a year that will end in 2017, he said, and interest rates are low right now. Officials sent out requests to various banks and interest will be about 3.5 percent, he said.
A normal house in the town is valued at about $150,000, he said, and based on that valuation the cost of a new building will be about $17 per year.
The perspective among homeowners, he said, has to go back to the property tax, but only 15 percent of the tax levy goes for town of Hull purposes, such as roads, the fire department, parks, emergency medical technicians and other town activities. The rest goes to the county, schools, Mid-State Technical College and the state.
The town doesn’t fund policing services or planning and zoning services, which come from the county through the Sheriff’s Department and the Planning and Zoning Department, he said.
Taxes in Hull have not gone up in two years, he said. “We are going back to ask them (taxpayers) to put money in a building that belongs to them. We need to put an investment in that building.”
Holdridge feels this will be a good time for construction. September is a good time to get bids because most construction projects are ending, he said, and contractors can work on a new building from September to December, then use January and February to remodel the existing building.
“It’s a good time to do this,” he said. “Acting when interest rates are low makes great sense. We need the building.”
Pederson said the town will look to include as much energy efficiency as it can in the building. “Use of non-renewables is something we need to address,” he said. “As elected officials we’d be irresponsible not to move on with this.”