In her third inaugural speech last week, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst hinted at a long-discussed concern regarding the looming costs of maintaining numerous aging municipal facilities—Town Hall in particular—and asked whether it is time to look at alternatives to renovation, including new construction.
With the leases on some rented town facilities coming up for renewal and several town utility buildings in need of major repairs or replacement, Ms. Throne-Holst said that, in the coming months, she will spur a review of the potential costs facing the town, both in terms of upkeep and in expenses lost to efficiencies that new facilities might present. The review will also explore facilities management and what alternatives might be available to reduce the town’s cost over the long term.
For example, Town Hall does not have its own heating system, instead relying on a boiler at the neighboring Southampton Elementary School, an arrangement that Ms. Throne-Holst said the school district is not willing to continue in perpetuity. Outfitting Town Hall with its own boilers would be a major capital expense for the town, and an investment in a building that lags far behind new construction designs in energy efficiency and effective use of space.
“We’ve done studies of what it would cost to make that building heat/cool independent—it’s a $4 million or $5 million project,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We have space issues in that building—our Building Department is in wholly impractical quarters today for what they need. Jackson Avenue is a mess.
“If you combine what we pay in rent for the senior center in Hampton Bays and the costs of the Justice Court trailers, and you look at what it costs to run town government as we are situated today, how practical and cost effective is that?” she added.
The town pays more than $300,000 annually to rent space for the senior center in Hampton Bays. Its lease on the space, in the King Kullen shopping center on Ponquogue Avenue, expires in 2016. The town also contributed $200,000 to the construction of the building in 2004.
Ms. Throne-Holst noted that along with future costs, the town would also have to consider what it could glean from moving certain facilities, and either selling or renting the existing century-old Town Hall building, all of which could offset the cost of a new Town Hall facility elsewhere.
A shelved plan from several years back called for a $75 million town complex in Hampton Bays, again uniting all the town’s administrative offices, courts and police headquarters onto a single property.
While such an ambitious undertaking is not what board members are envisioning now, Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera acknowledged that officials must take a closer look at the town’s inventory of buildings and assets. “There is going to come a point in time where it just may not be fiscally responsible to keep carrying these costs,” she said.
Ms. Throne-Holst acknowledged that the inescapably large costs of a new construction would be hard for many to swallow, regardless of the potential savings in the long term, and that only a detailed and comprehensive accounting of all the alternatives would likely bear out whether they’re worth tackling. She said she expects the town will need to hire a consulting firm to conduct such a sprawling study.
“I don’t know—maybe I’m completely out in left field with this, but we don’t know until we’ve looked at it,” she said. “It may be, in the end, [that] it’s more practical to fix and patch what we’ve got. But we’ve got some big decisions to make coming up, and we owe it to the town to take one large look at this before we do that.”