Council approves School Street Barn, Park design funding
Date: 4/11/2012April 11, 2012
By Debbie Gardnerdebbieg@thereminder.com
AGAWAM The City Council did approve resolutions funding two proposed projects at School Street Park during its April 2 meeting, but the process, at least for one item, garnered some opposition.
City Councilors Robert Magovern and George Bitzas both expressed concerns regarding the level of expenditure requested for an architectural study to preserve and possibly, re-purpose the historic School Street Barn into a community center.
During its March 14 meeting, the Community Preservation Committee had unanimously approved a request to appropriate $61,750 in Community Preservation Act funds for initial design services for the proposed restoration and potential conversion of the barn.
Planning and Community Development Director Deborah Dachos explained at the March 19 CPC meeting that she had contracted with Crosskey Architects of Hartford, Conn. for the initial design work for the barn. That firm, which she said had "extensive experience rehabbing barns, both private and public," submitted the lowest bid for the requested survey work. She also made arrangements for Bonnie Parsons, a representative from Cross Key, to give a brief presentation on School Street Barn project at the April 2 City Council meeting.
Bitzas told Reminder Publications he felt the nearly $62,000 request was "too excessive" for a study that would go beyond preservation work for the historic site, potentially allowing for alterations to the building for multiple community uses.
He said he felt the space in the barn was too small to make it an effective use as a community center one of the potential proposals and was concerned that the addition of such things as a kitchen and an elevator, which is required in public buildings under the Americans with Disabilities Act, would take away from the historic value of the building
"You don't convert the Coliseum [in Rome, Italy] into a concert hall," Bitzas said. "I was looking to convince the council to spend less money to hire an architect to maintain the barn the way it was 120 years ago, so that it would be an educational [example] for school children."
Finance Committee Chair Joseph Mineo said his committee had approved both the $61,750 CPC funds expenditure for design services for barn preservation, and the $125,000 expenditure for design services related to a re-conceptualizing of Phase II of School Street Park.
The council approved both measures the barn appropriation by a vote of 9-2 and the park redesign by a vote of 11-0, with virtually no discussion.
Mineo noted that discussions regarding the potential re-use of the barn seemed to monopolize a large portion of the meeting.
"Conversations went on for over an hour," Mineo said. "During citizens speak time, several residents came forward to speak in favor of [the project]."
Mineo said he understood the point Councilors Magovern and Bitzas were trying to make during the discussions, but "last Monday night, we were voting on the design [phase] of the barn and the park," and not any potential re-uses.
"We don't know anything about [the barn's re-use] until you do the design work," Mineo said. Once that is completed, then, he said, those types of decisions can be made.
He added that regardless of the survey outcome, the town would face several "big ticket" expenditures to stabilize School Street Barn, including a new roof, a new foundation and new windows. He said the town was fortunate to have CPC money available to make these repairs.