Lovettsville staffers will have to wait another month to see whether their dilapidated town office trailer, nearly a decade past the manufacturer’s recommended replacement date, will be changed out.
The Town Council last Thursday night opted to wait until its Aug. 22 meeting to take a vote that could authorize Town Manager Rob Ritter to replace the 720-square-foot singlewide Willscot trailer in the back yard of the town office. The trailer office houses the desks of Town Engineer Karin Fellers and Utilities Director Steve Gates.
Ritter brought the action item to the council because Willscot informed the town last month that the trailer was losing its structural integrity and might not hold up well during the next snowfall this winter. “This is a need now,” Ritter said.
Delaying the vote will allow town staff time to provide the council with more information on a trailer changeout and long-term options for the town’s office space needs. Under the council’s request, staff members will look into the feasibility of installing permanent offices in the 1,800-square-foot barn at Quarter Branch Park.
The trailer was installed in January 2008 as a temporary solution to office space needs after the town hired a project manager and ran out of room in the 1,250-square-foot Town Hall. The trailer kept the town from paying to house its paper files offsite in a storage unit and gave the Town Council a space to hold closed sessions, rather than requiring the public to stand outside the town office. It was intended to remain in place for up to two years.
In June, Willscot inspected the trailer and identified that it “is in need of some refurbishment due to the length of time it has been onsite and used as occupied space.” Additionally, the staff has found that the floor has softened a bit, causing computer monitors to sway when people walk around.
A replacement is expected to cost up to $35,000.
“Council must act at the August meeting … because winter is coming,” Mayor Nate Fontaine said.
In the meantime, the town staff will look into converting the Quarter Branch barn into a secondary town office—a project that would require the town to relocate its annual events storage items and install drywall, insulation, HVAC and connect electricity.
Discussions of a town office expansion have been ongoing for more than a decade but the project has never received full council support.
In 2013, the town paid PMA Architecture $57,000 to conduct a Needs Assessment and Preliminary Site Evaluation, which found that the town needed 5,800-square-feet of office space—nearly five times what it currently has. The town paid the firm an additional $5,000 to evaluate other potential town office sites. Those plans went nowhere.
A few years later, staff members put together a report outlining plans to replace the singlewide trailer with a doublewide for $100,000. The Town Council in 2017 removed funding for that in the fiscal year 2018 town budget
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 all funding from the fiscal year 2019 budget.
In March, Ritter presented $1.5 million proposal to expand the office into a 4,180-square-foot building on the same site with a nearly 1,000-square-foot Town Council chambers with up to 36 seats for residents attending meetings, seven offices, a conference room and 40 spaces outside—enough for not only town staffers and council members, but also residents attending meetings.
Ritter at that time also proposed that the town could rent a doublewide trailer for extra space at a first-year cost of $90,000 and up to $20,000 in annual rental rates in subsequent years. Although he proposed the town include $140,000 for design costs in the town’s fiscal year 2020 budget, the Town Council did not approve that funding.