Bernacki revives discussion of new Windsor Town Hall

Published 1:00 am Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Windsor Town Councilman Walter Bernacki took the opportunity of the Windsor Town Council’s Tuesday, Jan. 23, work session to renew a discussion from 2016-17 about the design and construction of a new Windsor Town Hall. 

There was a consensus among council members Tuesday to take the next steps on the project, which they agreed would involve the council gathering to discuss it further on Tuesday, Feb. 27, with the benefit of some work and research done by themselves and Town Manager William Saunders.

“There’s not but so much I’m going to be able to do until we have an architect,” Saunders said, “but I can mark up some plans, and I can make some phone calls to find out status of procurement and try to get some of these questions answered about how we would have to move forward. I think I can do that by February.”

In a Jan. 23 memorandum to the Windsor mayor and Town Council, Saunders noted that within the 2016-17 timeframe, the Town Council had solicited the services of an architectural firm to initiate design work on a new municipal building. 

“The architects worked up several design options with cost estimates in 2016-17,” he stated. “Due to several capital projects being considered at that time, to include the Town Center, the new Public Works building and a sidewalk project, the municipal building project was tabled.”

As part of their presentation to the council on Tuesday, Bernacki and Saunders displayed documents and exhibits representative of the design work done previously to initiate a conversation regarding a new Town Hall.

Some of the designs show the new Town Hall being built off of Shirley Drive, behind or next to the Windsor Police Department’s current location at 56 E. Windsor Blvd.

Bernacki referenced the three capital projects Saunders mentioned, in addition to the municipal building project.

“We’ve done three of those items so far,” Bernacki said, “and we were able to pay for them all, which was great, and not have any debt incurred by any of them, which I think was good pre-planning on some of their part, as far as having the money ready for a lot of those projects and getting grants and partnering. 

“But now we’re to the last one, which was the new Town Hall,” he continued. “We saw a need for it. As the town continues to get bigger, obviously this (current Town Hall)… we’re going to grow out of it.”

Bernacki noted that back in the 2016-17 time frame, he had proposed incorporating the new Town Hall with the Windsor Town Center.

“Because of the cost of it at the time, it wouldn’t have been much more to build it,” he said, noting he was told the town could have gotten the Town Hall and Town Center for $5 million. “That did not happen, so here we are today.”

The design options worked up by the architects back in 2016-17 included exterior looks at the proposed municipal building as well as aerial concept plans and floor plan diagrams.

Putting things in the context of 2024, Bernacki said, “I think we’re to a point and kind of a situation in town where at least we should do due diligence and look at it. We have the ARPA funds. If nothing else, we can at least plan with some of that money… Let’s get a design together and get a number on it.” 

He encouraged the council to be proactive with regard to the possibility of a new Town Hall.

He said, “The thing I would hate to see is we get two years down the road or a couple years down the road and all of a sudden, other things are happening in the town: Now we don’t have the space in this (current Town Hall), now you’re in a rush, and I hate to be rushed because then it costs more and it never turns out like you like because you’re not planning ahead and thinking about some of those things…”

He later added, “I would just hate to see that future Town Council several years down the road be caught and the citizens be scrambling, because that just doesn’t bode (well) and have a good outcome usually.”

Bernacki said he talked with Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle, who acknowledged the future need for expanded space for his department — a department which could become incorporated into a new Town Hall.

There was discussion among Saunders and council members about the impact that further Windsor population growth would have on the town government. Saunders indicated that it would lead to a need for a town engineer on staff.

Councilman David Adams said, “Are there any additional departments that would be required once we surpass that 3,500-citizen population that we should account space for? I know you said the engineer would be one. Is there anything on the Public Works side that we should plan for?”

Saunders said, “In this scenario, Public Works would probably stay separate for the most part. But I would recommend the engineer go in the Town Hall.”

He later added, “Off the top of my head, the only thing I could think of is we may potentially have to take over a stormwater program, so there may be either somebody that works with that engineer or somebody else in planning. There is already another person in the planning department shown in the space needs, so probably between the engineer and the extra planner, that probably covers that.”

He acknowledged that another part-time administrator could become needed.

With regard to the new municipal building project, Councilman Marlin W. Sharp said, “I think we ought to move ahead. However that happens, like Mr. Bernacki said, I’m not really sure, but I think to sit and wait for something to change, what’s going to change? We’re just going to get bigger.”

Councilman Edward “Gibbie” Dowdy asked if there were any other big projects that needed to be done or that are of concern right now to the town.

“Outside of (the) water system, (the new Town Hall) is really the biggest thing on deck for, say, the General Fund side of the house,” Saunders said. “The new Public Works building is done, the Town Center is done other than maintenance, and those were the biggies before. So on the General Fund side of the house, this is really the big thing that is still out there.”

New Town Hall cost estimates in the documentation from 2016-17 included totals of $3.1 million, $3.7 million and $4.3 million.

“Anybody want to take a guess at what the cost might be today?” Windsor Mayor George Stubbs asked.

“Double it,” Bernacki said. “That’s my guess.”

“I think that’s a fair guess,” Adams added.

Vice Mayor J. Randy Carr said, “Listening to everybody talk around the table, the consensus is pretty much to move forward, to try to see what we can build to be of service or of need to the town. Because if we sit here and wait another five years, it’s going to be like sitting here waiting from 2016 till now. And then our needs within (the current Town Hall) are going to grow and the serviceability of this (current) building is going to depreciate, so we’re in that position that as fast as Windsor is growing, along with the rest of the county, we’re in that position where we need to move.”

Referencing the 2016-17 design options, he noted that the town has already invested probably several thousand dollars toward the project.

“I stand with Walter,” he said. “I think that we need to go ahead (with) whatever that next step is going to be, because I think the census is telling us right now that we need to move forward. And then whatever that total dollar (amount) comes back at, it’s not going to get any cheaper from there five years from now. … We can’t sit idle.”

Adams asked to put a council work session on the calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Bernacki recommended that preparation for that meeting could involve council members and town staff penciling together their plans for what they would like to see from a layout in terms of efficiency, ease of access, security and meeting spaces. Then they could come to a consensus on what layout they like at the February meeting. 

He noted that once the town has a rough idea, then it could contact an architect.

Carr emphasized the importance of town staff giving their input on the building’s design.

Dowdy, alluding to something else Saunders could look into, asked, “Has any other locality built something that we might be able to look at — instead of reinventing the wheel — that might work for us?”

Adams said he proposed having the Feb. 27 work session because it “would give us hopefully enough time to at least get some initial groundwork done, and we can take any action at the March 12 meeting coming out of that Feb. 27 (session), and it’s only a couple days before March, but I defer to the consensus of the group. I just think that time not spent on it is time wasted.”

The council consensus was to meet again on the matter Feb. 27.