WESTBROOK — The city is taking the first steps toward selling its City Hall building on York Street and consolidating administrative offices for the city and school department.
The City Council’s Facilities and Streets Committee authorized the city’s administration Monday night to seek bids from commercial real estate brokers.
Revenue from the sale has already been factored into a plan to pay for $4 million worth of renovations at the Fred C. Wescott Building, the former junior high school. The 97,000-square-foot building, now home to the Westbrook Community Center, is one proposed site for City Hall and the school department administration.
The city is also considering expanding the school department’s office building, which is next to Westbrook High School, and moving City Hall there.
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said Monday that grants, donations and a $1 million bond have covered much of the cost of the ongoing renovations at the Wescott building. The sale of City Hall is “the one significant remaining piece,” he said.
During discussions about the reuse of the Wescott building, which was vacated when Westbrook Middle School opened in 2010, the sale of City Hall was projected to raise $1.2 million. The 4.7-acre property and 16,000-square-foot building are assessed at $2 million.
Bryant said the city would hire a real estate broker to assess the value more accurately, identify potential uses for the property and analyze whether it would make more sense to lease the building, considering the poor real estate market.
Moving City Hall into another publicly owned building would save $75,000 annually in operating and maintenance costs, Bryant said.
If the City Hall building is sold and added to the city’s tax rolls, it would also generate $30,000 annually in taxes, he said.
Consolidating administrative offices for the city and schools, which share human resources and finance departments, would improve the efficiency of both staffs, said Bryant.
“I think it’s a tremendous plan,” City Councilor Michael Foley said at the facilities committee meeting Monday.
Just as the school department is looking at closing Prides Corner Elementary School to save money, he said, “It only makes sense for us to be (making) an effort to downsize buildings.”
Foley said closing a public building can be “a tough event,” and that was the case the last time City Hall moved.
In 1995, the city purchased the current City Hall building, which is located near the end of the commercial corridor on Route 25, which Foley called “the outskirts of the community.”
City Hall had been in the Main Street building that’s now a People’s United Bank – a “prime downtown location,” Foley said. He noted that the Wescott building on Bridge Street is “one of the most centrally located pieces of real estate in the community.”
Jane Herbert, the only resident to speak at the meeting Monday, said she and others who frequently use the community center – home to a pool, a food pantry, the historical society, and fitness and art classes – are concerned that adding administrative offices could disrupt activities there.
Herbert said having enough parking is another concern. Bryant said the city would add 40 to 50 spaces.
Council President Brendan Rielly echoed Herbert’s concern that community center programs might be limited.
“We, for years and years, have pushed and pushed and pushed for expanded programming,” he said.
At the same time, Rielly said, consolidating the city and school department’s offices “makes all the sense in the world.”
All seven city councilors, sitting as the Facilities and Streets Committee, voted in favor of seeking bids from brokers. The council would have to approve hiring one.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]