From town hall to town mall? Swansea voters will decide if offices should move into former shopping center

SE Mass

SWANSEA, Mass. (WPRI) — Swansea’s town administrator Mallory Aronstein tells 12 News the offices in Town Hall on Main Street are simply “bursting at the seams,” and they’re in need of a new location.

“It’s given us everything we need, and we now need to move on because we’re growing,” Aronstein said.

Aronstein said when she took the job last November, the pandemic shed light on spatial constraints amid social distancing protocols, as well as its impact on offering services.

For example, the occupancy allowed in the hallway was four people. Aronstein said the town offices are not set up to hold meetings, so residents would have to seek help from town officials in the hallway.

“We have five offices here. You could only have one person at four of the offices, and you’re already at capacity,” Aronstein said.

Around the town offices, you’ll find cramped hallways with filing cabinets and desks, visible cracks in some walls, and a staircase in disrepair. Aronstein said the town annex on Stevens Street, however, is the one in the worst condition.

“There’s roof leaks, there’s a lot of unused space, there’s asbestos,” Aronstein said.

On Wednesday, the town office annex space had to be closed while tests for asbestos and mold were conducted. Aronstein said the tests were ordered after part of an office’s ceiling caved in.

On top of that, Aronstein said the buildings are not ADA and OSHA compliant. They’re also not up to code.

“We’re really struggling with offering high-quality 21st century services with these buildings the way that they are,” she said.

Aronstein said for $5.1 million, the town could purchase a one-story space out of the old Swansea Mall, and move its office on Main Street, the annex and the Council on Aging under one roof.

“We have that in certified free cash, which is basically aside for us to spend. We’re just looking for the authorization to do that,” Aronstein said.

Aronstein said while the space is too small to be renovated for town offices, the building on Main Street won’t go anywhere.

“It’s priceless in my opinion, it’s on the historic register, we can qualify for grants to fix this up, and there’s a funding plan in place to be able to do that,” she said.

Aronstein said if the plan moves forward, the town could sell the Council on Aging building and use the money from that for renovations on Main Street. She hopes the building could be used for additional meeting space or to hold functions.

A Special Town Meeting will be held Nov. 1 at Joseph Case High School at 7:00 p.m.

The town will hold public informational forums ahead of the Special Town Meeting:

  • Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. – Joseph Case High School Auditorium  *Will be recorded by Cable Access
  • Oct. 21 at 11:00 a.m. – Council on Aging *Will be recoded by Cable Access
  • Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. – Police Station Community Room

If voters approve the town’s proposal in November, Aronstein estimates the mall space will be ready sometime next year.

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