Needham Town Hall: Largest CPA Project Ever Tackles Complex Financing Issues on Path to Rehabilitation

July 2009: The largest appropriation of CPA funds for a single project was recently approved by residents of Needham. At Town Meeting in May, residents gave their stamp of approval to the recommendation of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) to restore Needham Town Hall, using $15 million in CPA funds.

This project demonstrates the town's commitment to CPA and historic preservation, and the willingness of many town boards to work together to tackle tough issues and find solutions for financing this complex project.

At Town Meeting on May 4, 2009, Needham residents approved the Community Preservation Committee's recommendation to allocate $15,029,233 in CPA funds for the restoration of Needham Town Hall ($7.2 million will be bonded). According to Paul Siegenthaler, Chair of the Needham CPC, the restoration has been discussed for ten years, and CPA funding was instrumental in allowing the project to move forward. In fact, the potential restoration of 1902 Town Hall was one of the galvanizing forces behind the town's adoption of CPA in 2004, said Kate Fitzpatrick, Needham Town Manager.

One of the most complex parts of this project was determining exactly what could be paid for with CPA funds, and what would need to be paid for from the town's general budget, since the project included work on the historic building and the addition of a modest new Annex at the rear of the building.  The town allocated over $3 million in general town funds to pay for the new addition, since CPA funds could not be used for creation of the new structure.

Determining the CPA/General Fund Split
The Needham CPC had three representatives on the town's Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC), which oversaw the hiring of the architect for this project. The architect who was ultimately selected for the Town Hall renovation has experience with historic preservation work, including Town Halls and CPA projects in other communities.

The CPC developed a list of historic features that they were concerned about, including the gold dome, the windows, the roof and balustrade, and interior trim work. The CPC presented this list to the PPBC and met with the architect and a representative of the PPBC to discuss each item.

One member of the Needham CPC is an architect by trade, and worked closely with the PPBC to determine what parts of the project would be eligible for CPA funds (the historic renovation portion) and what would not (the new construction/Annex portion). For example, the heating system in the renovated portion will be eligible for CPA funds, as it will be incorporated into the standing historic structure, while the heating system in the new Annex will not.

Because of the constant communication between the CPC and the PPBC, the CPA/non-CPA financial split was generally agreed upon by the time estimates were available.

Resources: a local architect, and a Circuit Rider
The Needham CPC says that having a CPC member who is also an architect was invaluable, as he was Needham Town Hallable to "speak the same language" as the project architect. Had they not had an architect on their committee, the CPC likely would have hired a consultant to help them work through the process. Particularly challenging was applying the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation to the project.

In addition to their resident architect, the Needham CPC took advantage of the Circuit Riders, a project of Preservation Massachusetts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These Circuit Riders travel the state and offer their preservation expertise to local communities. According to the Needham CPC, working with a Circuit Rider was extremely helpful as they determined what parts of their project would be paid for from which town account.

Moving Forward
The CPC liaisons to the PPBC will continue to attend those meetings, and minutes are forwarded to all CPC members. Though CPC members don't have an actual vote on the PPBC, their involvement, observation and questions will help ensure that the spirit of CPA is followed during this complex project.

The Needham CPC is happy to share their insights with CPCs in other towns who are dealing with similar issues; project documents are available online, and Patricia Carey can be contacted at pcarey@needhamma.gov for further information.