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Quincy councilors criticize use of Honeywell funds for Old City Hall moves, renovations

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 20, 2012 11:43 AM

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Quincy City Councilors said they were “stunned” to hear that $295,000 of a bond intended for energy upgrades was used to pay for the relocation and renovation of the City Clerk’s office from Old City Hall to the Munroe Building.

The move came shortly after engineers told city officials in February 2011 that Old City Hall was in too poor condition to continue to be used on a daily basis.

By early fall, City Hall was empty for the first time in 167 years of continuous government, and all the city’s offices and inner workings had been moved to either new City Hall or to a $180,000-a-year rented space across the courtyard.

Funding for that rented facility’s renovation did not come into play until Monday night, when councilors discovered that $295,000 of the $32.8 million bond issued in 2007 for Honeywell Energy upgrades was used on renovations, equipment, and a build out of the space.

Money from the failed Honeywell project – meant to provide millions in energy upgrades to city buildings - had been sitting in escrow pending litigation in court over whether or not the project had been finished.

Although several city officials said that the construction work technically fell under the purview of the bond, councilors were not pleased.

“The Honeywell borrowing was done under a broad framework that happened under an energy-saving plan... How do we go from that to renovating City Hall?” Councilor Brian McNamee said.

“I’m flabbergasted quite frankly of the utilization of this Honeywell escrow account unrelated to any energy efficiently improvements. It may be legally permissible, but I’m extraordinarily surprised,” Councilor Douglas Gutro agreed.

Gutro noted that taking money out of the account for the improvements – with a plan to replenish them with a later bond dedicated to city hall renovations - was probably the best course of action. However to bypass the City Council was objectionable, he said.

The discussion soon turned for the $18 million in renovations planned for Old City Hall and the Coddington School, most of which the city hopes to pay for in Community Preservation Act funding.

According to Chris Walker, spokesperson for Mayor Thomas Koch, of the $1 million in debt service a year, $900,000 will come from CPC funds. Although that money typically comes with restrictions, Walker said he is confident the city can secure the funding for debt-service purposes.

The $100,000-$200,000 - depending on interest rates - left over will be added to the city’s budget in the debt service line.

Although the City Hall renovations – an estimated $8.2 million for a “soup to nuts” renovation of one of the city’s most valued resources – is in line with where estimates were a year ago, Coddington School renovations have ballooned from the $1.5 million renovation planned in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan to a $9.2 million project.

“Once we had the architects on board to look at the building, it was clear that this wasn’t a $1 million fix,” Walker said.

The $1.5 million initially planed for Coddington would instead be used for roof repairs that came in higher than anticipated.

Although the Coddington renovation would eliminate the need for the school to lease the NAGE building for approximately $280,000 annually, Gutro questioned the need for such an extensive renovation when there wasn’t a true historical value to the building.

Gutro asked for the numbers on a tear-down, build up option to compare with the $9.2 million renovation number. Still, the building has demolition restrictions, Walker said.

“The mayor made a pragmatic decision to say we found the money, [we can] put it together, and make it a functional space,” Walker said.

Plans for City Hall's renovations are also a bit different than before. Drawings show ample meeting space in revised City Hall, but no clerk's office, which is a part of a larger plan to move around several functions between City Hall and Coddington, project engineers said.

With so many projects on the line, Councilor Margaret Laforest suggested that the city was in dire need of a preservation planner.

Walker said it was something the mayor would be looking into, but that the current plan was constructed thoughtfully and with a long-term perspective in mind.

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