Town Meeting Votes to Indefinitely Postpone Renovation of Old Town Hall’s Middle Floor

The prospects for a town museum suffered another setback Saturday.

Annual town meeting voted to indefinitely postpone a proposed $159,550 allocation from Community Preservation funds for “renovation and rehabilitation” of the middle floor of Old Town Hall so the space could house a museum. A long-awaited consultant’s report for the use of the middle floor had not been presented before Town Meeting

The Bedford Historical Society would be the operator of the town museum. The group and its archives have been located in the police station –originally the Stearns Building – since 1951. The Society’s current space will not be available for much longer, as town meeting also approved renovating the police station.

The Selectmen appointed a museum exploratory committee in December 2013, and its report in 2015 recommended Old Town Hall as one of five favorable sites. A follow-up study by an architectural preservation firm endorsed Old Town Hall as the best site in September 2017. The report called for relocating Bedford TV to the depot.

Annual town meeting in 2019 approved funding to renovate the lower floor of Old Town Hall to accommodate the collection of the Bedford Historical Society. The middle floor allocation was on the 2020 warrant but was delayed by a year as the warrant was streamlined in response to the pandemic.

The resistance on Saturday came from supporters of Bedford TV, the community action station that already occupies the middle floor. They said no work should move forward until plans are also secure for that operation.

The Select Board engaged a consultant to investigate whether the middle floor space can be divided and if the television operation could be relocated to the historic depot building at 80 Loomis Street, but that report has not yet been delivered. Supporters of Bedford TV were not hopeful about either option.

After several speakers, most of them in opposition, Jean Hammond moved indefinite postponement. The motion, which is non-debatable, received the required two-thirds vote without a hand count. The outcome means a new plan will have to be considered.

Paul Wittman, who said he was also representing Robert Dutton called for an “integrated plan” addressing the future of the museum and Bedford TV before any money is appropriated for work on Old Town Hall. Wittman said he and Dutton are on the Bedford TV Board, but they were speaking as residents and not on behalf of their board.

Wittman acknowledged that Old Town Hall is a great location for both. But he maintained that a decision should not only account for both institutions but also a funding plan. He dismissed the concept of shared use; the Bedford TV space is fully occupied now, he said.

Gretchen Kind, also part of the five-member board, agreed that “there is no room to spare.” She stated that the proposal to renovate is premature, and asked what happens if the two options – sharing space or moving the studio – can’t be realized.

Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman explained that the appropriation would allow work to proceed next fiscal year, while an agreement is sought on how to accommodate the museum and the television facility. If there is no acceptable solution, she said, the money could be returned to the community preservation funding pool.

Asked if the Select Board would approve a renovation plan without an acceptable site for Bedford TV, Fleischman replied, “I think the intention  is to negotiate in good faith, acceptable to both parties.”

Several other speakers who are not on the Bedford TV board also spoke in opposition. The only voices in favor were former Selectman Don Corey, historical society chair, who said a museum is an appropriate use for the historic Old Town Hall; and Ginni Spencer, who praised Bedford TV as “a wonderful asset capable of working with the historical society to come up with alternative space.”

But she added that it is time to move forward. “We are at a point now where we are like a person who wants to drive cross-country and is waiting for all the lights to turn green.”

The remainder of the community preservation agenda was approved, although there were some expressions of concern about the cost of the $420,000 boardwalk that will bridge wetlands between two trails in Hartwell Town Forest.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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