By Richard Gaines
A local option real estate surtax — approved when voters in 2009 embraced the Community Preservation Act — will be used to leverage $2.6 million in borrowing to continue restoration of the exterior of the 1871 National Historic Register City Hall.
City Council on Tuesday night approved the terms of the arrangement, fine-tuned by CFO Jeff Towne to shorten the term of the bonds to 16 years from the 20 proposed by the City Hall Restoration Commission.
At the shorter term, debt service was projected to be about $215,000 a year, about $30,000 a year more, but will save between $200,000 and $500,000 in debt service charges, Towne said.
Councilors took turns lauding the use of CPA money to make the hall safe — even Councilors Bob Whynott and Greg Verga, who are among a sizeable sector that believes the building is ill-suited to remain the seat of city government.
"When people voted for the CPA, this is a poster child for that," said Councilor Joe Ciolino. "Does the CPA work? It does work; this building would not be restored without it."
J.J. Bell, who sits on the City Hall Restoration Commission and chairs the Community Preservation Committee, said the City Hall project would focus on the wooden portions of the building and trim including the tower and belfry, the ventilators at the four corners that look like little towers, porticos and windows.
Work has been ongoing for more than a decade in fits and starts. The hall was vacated for an entire year, beginning with the day the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, after structural flaws in the beams and superstructure above the auditorium were discovered.
Additional work straightened and strengthened the bell tower, but pieces still are blown or flushed off, creating a safety hazard.
The building "is falling down around us," said Steve Dexter of the city's Community Preservation Committee.
"I don't think City Hall is a good office building," said Whynott, who served many years as city clerk around terms on the council in the 1970s and now. He noted that the building has an antiquated heating system and no cooling system, except for the vents included in the design when the hall was reconstructed after the Civil War.
"I will support this," he added, "but we need to do things on the inside."
Verga said he agreed with Whynott.
"It's a no-brainer that the exterior be restored, but I hope conversation continues on future functions for City Hall."
As a National Historic Register building, designed by the architects who did Boston's old City Hall on School Street, now fully modernized on the inside and leased to commercial tenants, strict codes require preservation and repairs in the same materials.
The investment in City Hall makes up the largest single allocation of money from the 1 percent real estate surtax authorized under the Community Preservation Act. In all, 10 projects have won funding commitments.
Work on the next phase of the City Hall project could begin before the end of the year.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Council at previous meetings award Community Preservation Act grants to the following projects:
10 Taylor St. condos, the Gardner Co., $110,000.
Central Grammar Apartments, $50,000.
Dogtown North Gloucester Woods preservation, $30,000.
Unitarian-Universalist Church restoration, $30,000.
Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, window conservation, $25,000.
Schooner Adventure restoration, windlass and anchor chain, $25,000.
Gloucester Housing Authority, Cape Ann Homeownership Center, $20,000.
Gloucester High School, Worstrel Environmental Adventure Center, $10,100.
Historical Commission, street survey update, $7,500.