EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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January 27, 2008

Town Hall expansion is back on ballot

ATKINSON - It's all about the space, or lack thereof.

Voters will be asked in March to approve spending $659,000 to expand Town Hall and build a cable TV studio. Of that total, $309,000 would come from the Atkinson Community Television Capital Reserve Fund; the remaining $350,000 would be raised by taxes.

The addition would help alleviate space constraints by adding a studio, a mechanical room, four offices and storage space.

The cost and design of the 3,000-square-foot addition is the same as it was last year, said Town Administrator Russell McAllister. The warrant article was taken off the ballot in 2007, however, in an effort to reduce the amount of money requests and get the $1.7 million new library approved.

The addition would run the length of Town Hall. The building needs committee hired GSD Associates of North Andover, Mass., to design the addition.

The Budget Committee is not recommending the addition, but the selectmen are this year, said Selectman Paul Sullivan.

While money from the cable fund would offset almost half the project's cost, Sullivan said he still recognized it might not be the year people want to raise their taxes because of high fuel costs and general tough times.

"It makes some sense to look at (the offset cost) and make the voters decide," he said.

Town Hall employees see the need.

David Williams, the cable station manager, said he keeps equipment in three separate closets. One of those closets is his current studio.

"I do have to say that more space would help," he said. "Get all of our equipment in one spot with the wiring in the walls."

If the studio is approved, Williams said he plans to spend more time developing programming that community members want to see. He also would like to get more community members involved in running Channel 20. Right now, there isn't enough space to tape programming in the evenings and broadcast board meetings live at the same time.

Town Clerk Linda Jette was too busy to talk about her space problems, which include storing records wherever they will fit.

The addition would have a dedicated space for vital records storage for the town clerk and a vault for the tax collector.

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