Amid debate over the town clerk's hesitancy to sign off on the final Town Hall renovations, the first selectman voiced his desire to seek an efficiency study of her office.
The issue came up at Tuesday morning's Board of Selectmen meeting where $663,000 was approved for the salvage, selective demolition and abatement of part of Town Hall.
While the overall project remains on track, one potentially significant delay has sprung up in the master plan. Town Clerk Claudia Weber has not signed off on the layout of her department's space in the new plans. The Town Hall Building Committee's deadline for department head approval was Aug. 2.
"I'm not going to lie, we're having problems with the town clerk and her approval of the design," First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said. "She has not signed off on her part yet; there are some questions about the vault ... If we have a delay, that's where the delay's coming from, that's the only place the delay's coming from."
When asked about the cause of the delay, Bill Oestmann, superintendent of highways and fleet, who's worked one-on-one with Weber, said he didn't know.
"Quite frankly, I'm not quite sure what her concern is. Furniture design. She wants more space," he said, listing possibilities. "We're doubling the size of her space."
Reached briefly Tuesday evening, Weber was surprised to hear what was said at the selectmen meeting that morning.
"This is news to me. I am so surprised to hear these words. I'm absolutely dismayed," she said.
On Wednesday morning, Weber defended her position, saying that while her vault and records area would be increased, the office space would be less than the temporary accommodations at the Walter Stewart's building at 237 Elm St.
"This is about making sure that, going forward, that the town clerk's office has adequate space and that we don't find ourselves in the same position we were in at the old Town Hall. It's very misleading to say that our space has been doubled," she said.
"The first two drafts (of the floor plan) were proposed before a full inventory was done of our office, not to mention a consideration of the flow of work. When I looked at the proposal I kept thinking, `You can't fit the contents of a swimming pool in a 32-ounce jug.' What we were then left with, in the plan we were looking at, was staff members who had little room for mobility and little room for expansion. We're visited by nearly 300 people a week and we need space for these people to gather ... with a few small changes, I believe we can make this work."
Shortly after his statements about the town clerk's refusal to sign off on the design, Mallozzi announced the town would be looking into commissioning a study on the efficiency of the town clerk's office.
"Vis-a-vis all this conversation is the real necessity of having an efficiency study of how the town clerk's office runs," he said. "I'm not sure we're running ours as efficiently as we can. (I'd like) an efficiency study to see how our town clerk's office runs compared to other towns. In terms of square footage, I see we seem to be adequately sized, quite largely sized, even for the future."
Weber defended her position on the efficiency of her department. "I do my due diligence on an ongoing basis," she said Wednesday, "which includes reviews of other town clerks' offices for efficiencies. It's standard practice for town clerks to share best practices. I feel confident that we've been operating as efficiently as possible within the constraints of space and other resources we've been given."
Regardless, the disagreement over the town clerk's space will not affect the demolition schedule, which is what the selectmen approved Tuesday morning.
"This is our first real construction contract on Town Hall," Director of Public Works Mike Pastore said. "The salvage items are doors and trim, the selected demolition has to do with removing walls and ceilings ... and the abatement has to do with lead paint and asbestos."
Selectman Nick Williams noted that if more asbestos or other dangerous elements are found in the course of the work, the duration and price tag of the project would increase. The money will be used only for the front part of the building, which will remain standing.
Mallozzi was hopeful that wouldn't be the case, as more than 300 cores have been drilled into the floors, ceilings and walls of the building to test for asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls.
The work will be completed by Bridgeport-based Standard Demolition Services, which came in as the low bidder out of three and of which Pastore spoke highly. He added that when Standard Demolition looked at the project, it gave a good price for the rear of the building, which will be removed completely. Pastore said the timing for that demolition is not crucial because it's at a later stage in the project, but that he liked the price and could be back within the month for approval for the rest of the demolition.
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