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Realizing a dream decades in the making, Richmond recently broke ground on a new town center that will house the Town Hall, library and a community room, and will give the town an important landmark.
Town officials held an official groundbreaking ceremony in early July on a property along Route 41. The $8 million project, the largest municipal project in Richmond’s history, will combine the various services in an 11,000-square-foot complex, next to the Richmond Consolidated School. It is expected to be finished by late 2023.
Up until now, the town has lacked a focal point, and this project will finally provide one, said Board of Selectmen Chair Roger Manzolini.
“It just brings the town’s people together,” Manzolini said. “I like that whole idea of people coming together, the whole concept of people talking to their neighbors. It’s just the way it used to be, and the way it ought to be, in my opinion.”
The project has been years in the making. Manzolini said the town bought the property about three decades ago, with the idea of eventually building a town center. About 15 years ago, he said, a previous plan was narrowly defeated by Town Meeting. In 2017, Richmond started assessing its building needs, and that process ultimately led to the plan for the new center.
Richmond, now with nearly 1,500 residents, has growing needs. The 100-year-old town hall has been deteriorating badly, and the community meeting room fails to meet the basic needs of the people meeting in it, officials said. In addition, the library has been operating out of a former truck garage. The new complex will offer better air quality, electrical upgrades, and improved access for people with disabilities.
By 2020, officials were ready to bring their new plan to Town Meeting, but the pandemic pushed the request into 2021, when residents approved it, said Patricia Callahan, chair of Richmond’s Municipal Building Committee. Increasing construction costs during the pandemic drove the bids up to about $8 million, however, and town officials found themselves about $1.5 million short for the project.
The town had more than $200,000 donated by the Friends of the Richmond Free Public Library group, and could use about $300,000 from its American Rescue Plan Act funds, but it needed an additional $1 million. The town asked residents to increase the bond authorization level in May, Callahan said.
“We got 80% approval,” Callahan said. “We said to people, ‘you can’t ever find 80% of any group to agree on almost anything these days.’ But the town approved it. It was really heartwarming.”
After the new town center opens, Richmond officials plan to give up the rental on the current library building, and sell the Town Hall. If the town can’t sell the property, Manzolini said, it will demolish the building to minimize maintenance costs.
Callahan and Manzolini said the new complex will have a classic New England style, with clapboard siding and a roofline matching that of the nearby school. Of the 11,000 square feet, the library and the town hall portions will get about 4,000 square feet each, and the community gathering space will have about 3,000 square feet. The building will be on one level, Callahan said, except for a storage area underneath the library.
In the building design, the town decided to focus more on solid infrastructure rather than extra design elements, Callahan said.
“We didn’t need to spend an extra million dollars on fancy,” Callahan said. “But I think it’s going to be solid, and I think it’s going to be clean, and healthy, and comfortable.”