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Needham town hall renovations cause rift

Posted by Ralph Ranalli May 16, 2007 07:38 AM

NEEDHAM

Town Meeting has approved a $50,000 study of design options for a Town Hall renovation, but not without some strong words for local officials.

The debate over renovating Town Hall, the centerpiece of Needham’s downtown, has been pitting local historians against some selectmen. Historians want to restore the 1902 building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, to its original glory. Selectmen, meanwhile, hope to provide more space for town employees, who work in cramped conditions with few amenities.

Town Meeting members who spoke out called for maintaining the historical authenticity, rather than modernizing the structure. Robert Larsen called the current condition of the building a “disgrace to the Town of Needham.”

James Hugh Powers, who has been a Town Meeting member for half a century, remembered when the legislative sessions were held in the second story meeting hall. That hall has now been divided into two floors with a temporary roof and used for offices and storage.

Member Glenn Orenstein, however, said that the working conditions of town workers were paramount.

"The interior is not exactly a palace" he said. "None of us would want to work in that environment, yet we ask our town employees to do so everyday.”

-– Lauren K. Meade

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