Following more than a decade of back-and-forth between town staff and council members, an idea to more than triple the size of Lovettsville’s town office could be taking shape.
Town Manager Rob Ritter presented the Town Council on Thursday night with a plan that could expand the 1,250-square-foot town hall into a 4,180-square-foot building on the same site with double the office space. That project could cost the town $1.5 million to complete, with $1 million allocated for construction and $500,000 for site work.
Ritter said that additional staff hires in the past decade have led to overcrowding in the office, relegating Assistant Town Manager Harriet West and Administrative Specialist Lisa Mullen to desks in the council chambers and forcing Town Engineer Karin Fellers and Utilities Director Steve Gates into a trailer office out back. The office also does not meet multiple ADA requirements, a shortcoming highlighted recently when a visitor fell at the main entrance.
Town Council meetings are also frequently overcrowded, with only 14 seats available for the public. Residents often pull chairs from staff members’ offices into the hallway near the main entrance to listen in on the meeting.
“We need to do something,” Ritter said.
Under the proposal by PMA Architecture, the existing building would be converted into a modern Town Council chamber with up to 36 seats for residents attending meetings. The expansion would include seven offices, a conference room and twice the amount of parking, from 20 to 40 spaces.
Ritter noted that 70 percent of the existing parking is taken up by seven Town Council members and seven town staff members on meeting nights, leaving only six spaces for residents and others.
Ritter also presented the council with a less expensive option to consider—to rent a doublewide trailer for extra space. Ritter said that could cost the town $90,000 in the first year to rent and set up, with up to $20,000 annual rental rates in subsequent years. He said there would be two downsides to that option, however.
During the month the trailer is set up, Fellers and Gates would need to find space in the already congested office. He said that renting a doublewide would also be a decision to kick the can down the road. “It would be a temporary fix for five to 10 years,” he said.
The debate over whether to build a larger town office has been ongoing since 2008.
In 2013, the town hired PMA Architecture to conduct a Needs Assessment and Preliminary Site Evaluation for $57,000. That report found that the town needed 5,800-square-feet of office space—nearly five times more than what it currently has. The town then paid the firm an additional $5,000 to evaluate other potential town office sites.
Between 2015 and 2016, then-town manager Lazlo Palko sought to purchase land for a new office, but was unable to do so.
The town staff then put together a report outlining plans to replace the singlewide trailer office with a doublewide for $100,000. Although that option was presented to the Town Council as part of the fiscal year 2018 town budget, the council removed funding for the project.
In early 2018, then-town manager Sam Finz hired PMA to develop a new town office expansion concept plan for $8,000. The Town Council, however, opted to not move the project past the conceptual phase and removed proposed funding for all town office upgrades from the fiscal year 2019 budget.
Ritter in January carried on with Palko and Finz’s push to expand the town office by proposing to include $140,000 in the fiscal year 2020 budget to pay for the design of a town office expansion. Because the Town Council expressed some concern that a new town office wouldn’t benefit the taxpayers, it decided to hold a public hearing, but no residents showed up to comment on the matter.
The Town Council is set to vote on the fiscal year 2020 budget at its March 14 meeting, at which point it could choose to include or remove funding for the town office expansion.