Plymouth town office renovations run into unexpected costs

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The Plymouth municipal building, which houses town offices, the fire department and highway department, needs renovations, selectboard members say. Photo by Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

Amid shipping delays and uncertain markets, the town of Plymouth will need another million dollars to complete its town office renovations. 

“The bottom line is, the project is way over budget,” said Rick Kaminski, the Selectboard member who has taken the lead on the renovation, at a meeting June 6. 

In December, town residents approved spending almost $1 million to renovate Plymouth’s primary municipal building, which houses the town offices, fire department and highway department. Repeated roof leaks, mold growth and a dying boiler had necessitated the decision. 

Drawing on existing funds, town officials did not plan to take on debt to fund the project. Now, more than six months since a town-wide vote to approve the project, Plymouth needs more money for the construction work to proceed as expected.

Maclay Architects, a Waitsfield firm, designed an energy-efficient plan, with a new roof, improved weatherization, heat pumps and solar panels. 

The company’s assessment of the current building found that Plymouth was using twice as much heating fuel as comparable buildings, and an update likely would save money on energy going forward. According to Selectboard Chair Jay Kullman, the municipal building — originally built as a warehouse — was designed to allow heat to escape from its roof, melting snow. That system proves inefficient, and the existing roof is not made to support a full winter’s snowfall. 

Plymouth residents approved $950,000 to renovate its town offices last December. Photo by Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

Initially, the town expected to receive construction bids by February and break ground this past spring. But when Plymouth sought construction estimates from contractors, it found most unwilling to commit to the project, fearing fluctuating costs for material and labor, Kaminski said. 

Because of delays in receiving estimates and daunted by lead times for receiving materials, construction will not begin until 2023, only adding to the difficulty in estimating the cost of construction. After requesting bids from seven companies, only one agreed. VMS Construction proposed a $1.5 million budget, far more than the $950,000 initially approved by the town back in December. 

“It’s still in a sense a soft number, but it’s the best we can come up with right now,” Kaminski told Plymouth residents at a June Selectboard meeting.

Faced with unforeseen costs, the town has sought to outline alternatives. One idea, endorsed by Selectboard member Keith Cappellini, is moving the town offices to the nearby community center and forgoing the planned office renovations. But that would require evicting or downsizing the building’s current residents, the Plymouth Historical Society and The Plymouth Schoolhouse, a day care center, which has already opposed the idea. 

Another option would be a partial renovation, spending only the money approved by Plymouth voters last year. According to Kaminski, the current money would cover a roof replacement, heat pump installation, and replacement of overhead doors. It would not fund the “energy envelope” weatherization system, or replacement of remaining windows and doors. 

To fund the planned renovation in its entirety, the town could take out an $800,000 bond. According to Kaminski, Plymouth would pay $60,000 a year for 20 years, a cost partially offset by the estimated $15,000 in energy savings from the new building. Yet with interest rates rising, the cost of a bond today might change by the time the town voted on the issue, he added, and he did not yet know the effect the bond would have on the town’s taxes. 

The bond would require a town-wide vote. On June 20, the Selectboard indicated it would plan to put the bond on the November ballot.

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