Town Hall Committee

Town Hall Committee November 7, 2013 RCL Notes

RCL Notes document for Civic News Links:  TownHallCteeMtg110713revBfinal


Final Revision B – Provided by the Rye Civic League

Present from Town Hall Committee:  Peter Kasnet, Mark Luz, Victor Azzi, Paul Goldman, Lucy Neiman, Selectman Priscilla Jenness, Selectman Craig Musselman, Town Clerk Beth Yeaton, Paula Merritt, Peter White.

Also present from Town:  Michael Magnant, Cyndi Gillespie, Kim Reed, Lee Arthur, Dyana Ledger.

Present from SMP Architects:  Eric Palson, Jason LaCombe

Present from Heritage Commission:  James Tegeder, Mae Bradshaw, Sara Hall, Rich Davis, Alex Herlihy, Jane Holway

Present from public:  Peter Crawford, Sam Winebaum, Frank Drake, Ned Paul, Phil Winslow, Laura Brown, Garrett Tueei and 3-5 other persons.


1.              SMP Architects presented their initial two-building design to the public.

2.              The public interacted one on one with the architects

3.              Afterwards, SMP stated that several people had expressed alarm with the scale of the building.

4.              It was agreed that SMP will reduce the size, and look into simplifying the new building and separating the old and new buildings further.

5.              It was also agreed that a single building option would be shown.


Chairman Victor Azzi opened the meeting and introduced the rest of the Committee, which was seated in the audience.  He stated that in March, 2013, Warrant Article 4 was approved, providing $60,000 for an architectural engineering study.  The Committee reviewed the condition of the Old Trolley Barn (also known as the Old Police Station).  The creation of the Rye Facilities Master Plan is another part of the charge, to look at all of the needs of the Town for the next 30 years.  Mr. Azzi also mentioned the 2012 Space Needs Committee and the creation of two schematic designs:  an extension and a separate building.  The Committee was appointed in July.  There is information on the Town website under Town Hall Committee.

Mr. Azzi continued, stating that the architect will introduce where we are in the process.  The architect selected is Sheerr McCrystal Palson Architecture (“SMP”).  All meetings are open and transparent, however three meetings have been identified as public meetings.  There are additional public meetings scheduled for Tuesday, December 3, 2013 and Tuesday, January 28, 2013, both at 6:30 p.m.  He stated that they want to hear from everyone.  The design is not final or settled, even though they are computer-generated designs that look complete.

Introduction by Eric Palson

Mr. Palson, Principal of SMP, introduced the design.  He noted that three-quarters of those present at the meeting already had some familiarity with the project. He started by showing an aerial view of the existing Town Hall, including the Church and the adjacent parking lot to the north.  He indicated the boundaries of the Town Hall parcel which is shown ending at the edge of the Church parking lot.  A second, adjacent Town parcel comprises the Church parking lot and also runs northward along the front of the Church.

Mr. Palson then showed the setbacks that would need to be met were the Town to comply with its own zoning ordinance.  That is not required, but “what is good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said.  The setbacks are 40 feet in the front, 20 feet on the sides and 30 feet at the rear.  He also showed the locations of the geothermal wells and a fuel storage tank to the north of the building.

Mr. Palson then showed a slide indicating the limit to the size of a compatible addition, pursuant to the Warrant Article.  It showed a small area of 40 by 26 feet.  This is the approximate size of a compatible, non-dominating addition, about a 1000 sq. ft. footprint, he said.  Mr. Palson then showed an 11,007 sq. ft. footprint, which is based on the maximum allowable lot coverage.  Editor’s note:  2013 Warrant Article 4 limits the extension under the single building option to 1/3 of the length of the existing building.  The existing building is approximately 82 feet long, so 1/3 is slightly more than 27 feet.

            Mr. Palson then described the possible locations of a new building, which are few given the setbacks.  There is a hill to the north of the Town Hall, he said.  Parking lots are not easily constructed on hills, while buildings can be.  Although the existing parking lot could be a site for a second building, that would mean constructing a new parking lot over the geothermal wells.  While this could be done, it would add to the total cost.  The logical choice for a second building is to the east of the existing building on the same lot, within the setback line.

Mr. Palson then discussed the choice between an addition to the existing building and a second building.  On the one hand, a single building would make it easy to go from department to department without dealing with inclement weather.  On the other hand, respecting the original building is important.  SMP has come up with a way to connect the buildings while still keeping them separate.  They are proposing a connector under the ground at the first floor level, buried in an extension of the hillside.  This also takes advantage of the hill and the existing retaining wall to provide access from the upper parking lot to the second floor of both buildings.  The concept also requires only a single elevator, which would be in the new building.

Mr. Palson then showed a graphic which indicates the space needs of each department.  This graphic showed the following square footages:

Planning/Building 1025 (file storage 500, counter 90, meeting rm. 90, planner 125, two  building inspectors 110 each)

Recreation               680 (work area 350, office 110, storage 220)

Meeting rooms      2800

Selectmen                750

Town Clerk             850 (staff work area 500, records 250, private meeting 100)*

Assessor                 400 (office 200, counter and maps 200)

Lobby                      950

Administration      1000 (mail/copy 200, staff break 200, treasurer 100, trust funds 100, Town administrator 200, Assistant 200)

Utility                       850

Total                       9305

Editor’s note:  At the November 19, 2013 meeting, SMP noted that the Sewer and Finance departments had been left off of the graphic.

Mr. Palson noted that the space shown on this graphic does not match the floor plan, which was based on an earlier version of the space needs determination.  Editor’s note:  At the October 22, 2013 meeting, Mr. Palson had indicated that the second building was 7982 sq. ft.  When added to the existing building of approximately 6000 sq. ft., the total is 14,000 sq. ft.  Thus, it appears that the graphic above represents a significant reduction, although it is not exactly an “apples to apples” comparison as some of the circulation space is not included in the total above. 

Mr. Palson continued, stating that once the Great Hall, which is currently occupied by offices, is converted to an open hall, that space will need to be replaced elsewhere.

Peter Crawford asked what the approximate total was of the above spaces.  Mr. Palson replied that it was approximately 10,000 sq. ft., before circulation.  Editor’s note:  Circulation space consists of the hallways and other means of getting from department to department.  A building is more efficient if it requires less circulation for a given amount of usable space.  Mr. Palson noted that an existing building is typically less efficient because of the choices which must be made to fit things in.  He further noted that the graphic included less space than the design that will be shown presently as the design has not yet been boiled down.  He said that it’s way, way too early in the process to be counting beans.

Ned Paul noted that the figure was approximately what the Space Needs Committee had come up with.  Editor’s note:  Mr. Paul was Chairman of the 2012 Space Needs Committee.  Mr. Crawford noted that those figures included circulation.  Mr. Palson stated that mechanical and lobby space on the graphic is part of what is subtracted from the gross to get to the net.  He acknowledged that the corridors and layout space were not included in the approximately 10,000 sq. ft.  Editor’s note:  There are various definitions of “net” space.  Typically the difference between the two figures consists of more than just the circulation space.

Rich Davis asked about future expansion.  Mr. Palson stated that that would become clear later on as more decisions are made.

Mr. Palson then showed a slide with arrows connecting departments that needed to be close to each other or to an entrance.

Mr. Palson showed the preliminary plan views of the first and second floors, showing how the building might function.  He pointed to the back half of the first floor and stated that that portion would be windowless.  Storage, mechanical and vault space would be in this area.

Mr. Palson also referred to the Facebook page, which has already seen 82 “likes.” As of 1:00 p.m., 982 people have viewed the page.  He also showed a video flyover which showed what the building would look like from various angles.  Editor’s note:  The flyover is available on YouTube.  Search for “Rye Town Hall site model” on, or enter into your browser.  A more recent flyover was developed of a design of reduced size.  See the notes of the November 19, 2013 meeting.  The addition is smaller and pushed back, he said.  The building is of white clapboards as he assumed that that would sell well.

Public interaction

Members of the public then came up to look at the plans and various graphics.  There were individual discussions with the SMP representatives, Mr. LaCombe and Mr. Palson, and interactions between members of the public.

Meeting reconvened 

The Committee met after the public interaction portion of the meeting.  The public was invited to remain, and Peter Crawford, Alex Herlihy and Sam Winebaum did so, along with members of the Committee.

Paul Goldman opened the discussion with a “higher level comment to the process.”  The Committee will see if any of the input has an impact on the path from a process standpoint.  However, his personal view is that, unless there is any “show stopper“ indicating things that need to be reviewed then they should proceed with the plan that is in place.

Selectman Musselman asked for a summary of the public discussion as people were unable to hear much of this due to the format of the public interaction.

Mr. Palson stated that there was some alarm as to the scale of the project, which was not too surprising.  The Committee needs a clear vision as to how the hall is to be used.  It was seen as being redundant with the Selectmen’s office.  Editor’s note:  This was an apparent reference to a large meeting room that is apparently part of that area.

            Alex Herlihy stated that he wanted to see the Great Hall restored, including the stage.  That is needed for performances and forums.  He emphasized that it is not superfluous.  He is concerned that people would see the Great Hall as being superfluous, given that there are offices currently in that space and given the scale of the building.  An effort needs to be made to show people how it can be used, he argued.  He would like a building that is scaled down from the size shown.

Paula Merritt observed that some people had expressed concern that the buildings are too close together.  Mr. Palson responded that the buildings can be made to feel as though they are further apart without moving them 20 feet further apart.

Chairman Victor Azzi stated that what he heard was similar to his own views.  People like the idea of a building which appears to be separate and distinct.  They like that it would be functionally connected.  However, the new building needs to be smaller.  He would like to see a simpler building.  There would not be a concern with the setback if the building is rectangular.  Virtually everyone liked the ideas presented, he said.

Paul Goldman stated that inclusion of the Great Hall as meeting space should not force the rest of the space to be squeezed down if doing that forces it to be less functional.  He asked whether the Great Hall or the functionality was most important.

Beth Yeaton commented that the non-rectangular shape permitted more windows to provide natural light.  If the building were more rectangular there might be fewer windows, she said.  Victor Azzi responded that it is a question of the topography.  Jason LaCombe stated that the building could be simplified and still provide daylight.  Mr. Azzi stated that making the building too complicated would probably add to the cost.

Mark Luz expressed concern that people might imply that reconstitution of the Great Hall is leading to the need for an additional building.

Selectman Musselman stated that there was a lot of discussion about square footage.  However there needs to be a process needs to winnow things down so that the building is smaller and simpler.  At that point, the functional tradeoffs can be looked at.  They need to look at how much the building can be reduced without changing function.  Mr. Palson stated that the next plan will show furniture which will assist in showing the scale of the offices.

Selectman Musselman referred to a meeting room referred to as the Selectmen’s Meeting Room.  This is not the concept.  The majority of meetings have 6-10 people attending.  This room is significantly larger than is needed for that.  Meetings of 40-50 people could be in the Great Hall.  There would be a question of the acoustics for smaller meetings.  He suggested a meeting room, about the size of the current courtroom, for meetings during the day with about 10 people attending.

Chairman Azzi suggested that there be three meeting rooms: the large Great Hall, a smaller room for 10-12 persons, and then one of intermediate size.

Mr. Palson suggested that the stage could be temporarily partitioned off where the curtain is located in order to serve as a meeting area.  Many in the audience nodded in agreement.  Mr. Azzi stated that that sounded like a good idea.  He added that he cannot see doing without the stage as part of the Great Hall.

Lucy Neiman suggested that she would like to enlist Alex Herlihy to help with uses of the Great Hall.

Mr. Herlihy responded that December 3 will be a crucial meeting.  He cannot forget the 1400 voters.  Their addresses are available but not their e-mails.  How they think needs to be determined.  Cyndi Gillespie suggested that the minutes of the last meeting during which the Recreation Commission listed a number of uses should be reviewed once the minutes are available.

Lucy Neiman stated that two meeting spaces may not be enough.  Providing more meeting space is one of the reasons for the building.

Paul Goldman noted that the Space Needs Committee’s report lists 178 annual uses of the Town Hall Courtroom.  Selectman Musselman noted that most of the time meetings are not packed.  Alex Herlihy noted that once there are 25 in the audience, the Courtroom is packed.

Lucy Neiman asked how many meetings spill out into the Lobby.  Cyndi Gillespie responded by noting that meetings often must be moved upstairs when the Courtroom is in use.

Ms. Neiman stated that she is hearing an immediate reaction that the building is too large along with a recommendation that the size must be reduced.  She asserted that this philosophy is short sighted.

Mr. Herlihy stated that he is concerned with the Town approving the building.

Selectman Musselman stated that the critical piece is leaders and coming together with that group, or with a larger group of 70-80 people.  He stated that it was premature to focus on square footage to the last 100 square feet.

Sam Winebaum expressed a concern that a meeting room of similar size to the Town Hall Courtroom is needed to free up the Great Hall for use.  There could be events there many evenings.  He also stated that the architects are real professionals and the Town employees should trust them.  Mr. Winebaum noted that, although he is not concerned with the separation, he is troubled by the length in an easterly direction.  It does not look sufficiently subservient.  Mr. Palson stated that the designs would improve from here on out.

Peter Crawford stated that Ms. Neiman’s earlier question about meetings spilling into the Lobby had been misinterpreted.  He asked how many meetings have been held where people in the Lobby were trying to participate, as opposed to people milling around in the Lobby waiting for their cases to come up, as is common with Planning Board and ZBA meetings.  The answer to that question would help determine the size of the meeting space, he said.

Selectman Musselman responded that overflow rarely occurs with Selectmen’s meetings.  Kim Reed stated that Planning Board and ZBA meetings can have overflow in the Lobby beyond those waiting for their cases to come up.  Beth Yeaton stated that elections are often held on Planning Board meeting days, and they have trouble getting through the Lobby when returning from the election.

Selectman Musselman asked whether the Committee needed to consider the option of a building extension.  Peter Crawford responded that, while he had been on the fence, he now agrees that the two building option is superior.  However, since the Warrant Article requires two schematic designs, the Committee should do this other design so as not to be blindsided by someone from the public inquiring about both of the designs required by the Warrant Article.

Chairman Azzi agreed that they should go somewhat further with the single building option.

The text of the warrant article was discussed.  It was determined that the warrant article does not refer to 26 feet, but rather refers to one-third of the length of the existing building.

Beth Yeaton questioned whether the Town should spend more money on doing this design.

Mr. Palson stated that it would not cost the Town more as they are committed to doing the second design.

Various ways of showing the design to the public were then discussed, including showing a design violating the one-third rule, a design with the excess put in a different building, and a design following the rule, but having insufficient space.  There were opinions but no clear consensus as to exactly how it would be shown.

Paul Goldman agreed that the single building design should be done, but maintained that the Committee is beyond the fork.  Editor’s note:  He was referring to the one building/two building decision.

Chairman Azzi stated that the design is needed to show the rest of the Town that the work was done.

Lucy Neiman stated that she had heard Mae Bradshaw arguing for violating the setback requirement in order to have 5 feet more of separation.  Chairman Azzi stated that there would be plenty of room.  Editor’s note:  The building shown was approximately 8000 sq. ft. while only 4500 sq. ft. of additional space is needed to meet the 10,500 sq. ft. total space need as determined by the Space Needs Committee.  That figure includes the 6000 sq. ft. existing Town Hall.  Reducing the building size would create plenty of room between the setback and the existing building.


Whereupon the meeting adjourned at 8:46 p.m.

* There is also a vault of 150 sq. ft., apparently not included in the total.