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New town hall to bring in pieces of past

By Melissa Proulx, Staff Writer

Melissa Proulx/Staff

The finishing touches are put on Durham’s new Town Hall. The old building has been with the community since 1978: Its future owner still unknown.

After a year of hard work that was challenged even more by the harsh winter, the Durham Town Offices are looking forward to moving into their new home on Saturday, Oct. 18.

“We’re seeing a lot of new investment in Durham,” said Todd Selig, the town administrator. “Our hope, as a community, is that it will represent a face lift; that the investment will help out on-going efforts to improve Durham.”

The new Town Hall, located across the street from the old building, is nearly double the size of the 5,000 square foot converted apartments located at 15 Newmarket Road that currently house the town offices.

It was the need for more space that spurred the decision to find some new stomping grounds. During a tour of the current Town Hall, Selig described how the town’s employees are currently “shoehorned” into the space, with different areas serving a multitude of functions.

“It’s a quaint building; it’s part of the historic district,” Selig said. “But it just no longer meets our needs as a municipal office building.”

Though many of the old elements have been brought over — such as the brick walkways — the new design takes advantage of the aspects the old bank that used to reside on the land.

With the exterior walls of the old bank now being used in the interior, guests are greeted by a lobby of serene colors and the topographical map of Durham that was made by local artist and UNH professor John Woodsum Hatch back in 1965. With a domed, glass entrance that takes up nearly half of the front, the lobby is bathed in natural light.

Located immediately on the first floor are the town council chambers — similar in size to the current ones — and the town clerk, which is now universally accessible. Up the hall are two small public meeting rooms, giving the community an additional benefit of having the new structure.

With all the rooms on both the bottom and top floors taking advantage of as much of the natural light as possible, Selig said that builders have also installed motion sensors to activate the overhead lights. This small upgrade, along with the thickly insulated walls and heated tile floors were only a few of many energy-efficient elements of the new building.

“It’s LED certified, a LED silver building,” Selig said. “It’s like the gold standard for green construction. … So the new building is hyper-energy efficient.”

Designed by Arthur Guardano from AG Architects, a Durham resident, both he and Selig said getting the resident’s approval was a major influence in the design of the building. After the first draft of the designs weren’t well received by the community, Guardano held a public meeting where he presented more than a dozen different design versions for the town to vote on and pick from.

“We really involved the community,” Guardano said. “I had a comment from one woman who attended the meeting. … She said she really appreciated the fact that we did that.”

And when it came to deciding on what to do with the old building, which the town has occupied since 1978, Selig said they did the same thing.

“The town had a purchase and sale agreement with a private seller, and the developer was going to turn this into a pharmacy site,” Selig said. “But there was a lot of concern because the developer didn’t want to keep this building; they wanted to tear it down.”

Selig said it was this public concern that caused the Town Council to end the agreement with the developer, and that they are now in the process of making sure that the old building must legally be preserved by whoever buys it.

The current selling price for the old building is $1.3 million, a cost that the town plans on using to cover the $2.9 million cost of the new building. Most of the money, according to Selig, is coming from taxes.

But with the fate of the old building currently unknown, those involved with erecting the new Town Hall are looking forward to its impact on the town in the coming years.

“Town Hall’s to be around for a long time,” Guardano said. “Hopefully, it will represent a new future for Durham.”

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