By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on 7/5/22, the Fairhaven Select Board voted to support efforts by the Rogers Re-Use Committee (RC) to apply for the 1885 Rogers School building to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The application to the Mass. Historical Commission (MHC) starts the process and is a revision of the application sent last year. The National Register is a federal program of the National Park Service and is administered by the MHC in the state.
At the meeting, RC chairperson Susan Loo told the board that the MHC rejected last year’s application, and asked for more information.
Ms. Loo told the board that the designation applies to the whole property and building, inside and out. The listing does not cover “specific features,” she said.
If a developer uses private funds, there is no restriction on what can be done to the building. If historic tax credits or grants are used, however, restrictions apply.
The designation also gives the town more authority to add local restrictions to the building.
Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison noted that there are three open bids for use of the building from the last Request for Proposals. She said pursuing the listing on the National Register does not affect negotiations with those developers.
The board voted to approve the application.
In another matter, the board heard from several residents and Historical Commission chairperson Wayne Oliveira voicing opposition to plans by Ms. Ellison to swap the Select Board and TA office with the Collector/Treasurer’s office.
Ms. Ellison told the board that the Veterans Agent had already moved his office to the Council on Aging/Senior Center. Conservation will also move to the VA’s old office. And the Planning Office will expand into the space previously occupied by the conservation agent.
Ms. Ellison told the board and the public that the Collector’s office is the most trafficked office in town hall and the one that has the least accessibility for people with mobility issues. She said the SB office does not get as much traffic.
“My office is not a functioning office for what I need to do relative to the position,” said Ms. Ellison, adding that it is too small to have more than a couple of people in for a meeting.
She said she has had to pick up documents and then find a place to meet, such as the East Room upstairs. Then, inevitably, has to run back down to get documents.
“It’s not conducive to any level of professionalism,” she said, and not conducive to doing the business of the town, or for her to successfully do what she needs to do.
Ms. Ellison also addressed some “misinformation,” about the move. She said the doors are not being cut, but one will be created, the kind with a shelf for people to use as a surface to write on.
She said the plan was to move the counter in the Collector’s Office, but that is on hold because a member of the Fairhaven Historical Commission contacted the Mass. Historical Commission, and they want to see the plan. The Town Hall has a Preservation Restriction dating back to 1998, which includes the inside of the building.
Ms. Ellison said that regardless of the decision by the Mass. HC, the move will happen.
“We’ll see what we can or can’t do,” she said. “And based on that, we will adjust.”
Ms. Ellison stressed that moving the offices was well within her purview and no one else’s.
She seemed to take a certain amount of umbrage at some of the misinformation that had circulated around town and on social media.
“People have taken it upon themselves to provide false information,” said Ms. Ellison, adding they are taking action based on lies, and accusing her of having a “hidden agenda.”
“I will never ever lie,” said Ms. Ellison.
She said the offices will move in any case, and if they are “stuck” with counter, they will work in that space and “make it work.”
She stressed that the accessibility issue was important, and if the Louvre in Paris, a building that is thousands of years old, can be wheelchair accessible, then Fairhaven’s town hall can be, too.
Board members expressed support for her plans.
SB member Bob Espindola noted that a study some years ago addressed some of the accessibility issues in town hall.
SB Vice Chair Leon Correy said Ms. Ellison had “taken a lot of unnecessary heat” about the move. He said she is in charge of the day-to-day operations of town hall, and the SB sets policy. He said the Board of Directors of a company does not tell the CEO “where to sit.”
Historical Commission chairperson Wayne Oliveira said the preservation restriction means no damage can be done by office moves.
He said talk of using Home Depot doors in an 1894 building was “just not the right thing to do.”
He said the SB office is currently 726 square feet and they will be moving to a 465 square-foot space.
“This makes no sense whatsoever,” said Mr. Oliveira, who failed to mention that his wife, Vicki Oliveira, is the Assistant Town Administrator and would be directly affected by the move.
He noted electrical issues, phones, and computers will have to be moved, along with the alarm system.
“Who benefits from this move,” asked Mr. Oliveira.
“With all due respect…I would like to see some master plan,” said Tracy Travers.
Cathy Melanson also spoke against the change saying the half-door with the “center thing on it,” would make our town hall like all the others: cold.
“Fairhaven’s not cold,” she said.
Nils Isaaksen, a member of the HC, said he had concerns about people “doing their private business” in the hallway through the half-door.
Ms. Ellison reminded everyone that town business is not private, and people can still go behind closed doors if necessary.
“We do municipal work,” said Ms. Ellison. “Everything we do is in the public realm. There is no privacy. It’s public work.”
The board did not take a vote.
The board also held a joint meeting with the Finance Committee to approve several year end transfers.
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