Ample options, no decision yet on Franklin Town Hall relocation
By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer
The possibility of relocating Franklin’s town hall has been a topic of debate among town board members and residents for some time now.
Some say town hall should move to the Burrell Building, a former museum that houses the police department and is located at the entrance of Main Street in the downtown area. Others support building a new municipal complex on the Whitmire property, a 12.7-acre piece of land about a half-mile outside downtown. The town purchased the property several years ago for $1.6 million.
Moving town hall from its present location on Main Street is necessary, say town leaders, because of the lack of parking and office space at the current facility.
Downtown or not
To remedy the situation, the town purchased the Whitmire property for the specific purpose of building a municipal complex that would house the police department, fire station, public works and town hall. Town leaders went as far as developing a schematic design of the multi-purpose facility. There have been no cost estimates done on the project.
But some oppose relocating town hall to the Whitmire site because the land is located outside of the downtown district.
The town hall debate has been stagnant for several years now because of disagreements among town leaders about the location.
Alderman Bob Scott is a supporter of keeping town hall on Main Street.
“I am for it 100 percent,” Scott said. “It’s the most logical and probably the most economical decision.”
Board member Verlin Curtis, however, strongly opposes moving town hall to the Burrell Building.
“We are not going to gain any more space there than we have at our present location,” he said.
Instead Curtis would like to see a new municipal complex built at the Whitmire site. “That’s why we purchased the property,” he said.
Also, moving town hall to the Burrell Building would hinder the police department operations for at least a month and the cost for relocating the public works department — which occupies the lower portion of the current town hall — could reach up to $2 million, Curtis said. At least $500,000 would have to be spent to install an elevator into the two-story Burrell Building, and moving public works would cost roughly $1.5 million, he added.
Some shop owners along Main Street would like to see town hall remain in the downtown area.
Janet Green, owner and operator of Peoples and The Twin Shops, supports keeping town hall in the downtown district.
“I think that town hall should stay in the downtown area,” Green said. She supports the move to the Burrell Building because it has ample parking for residents. “I support the move as long as people park in the parking lot,” Green said.
Additionally, Green said if the police station moves to the current town hall it would probably allow the department to operate more efficiently.
“They might be able to get out quicker,” she said.
Robin Henry, owner of Antiques on Main, supports moving the town hall because of the bad parking situation at the current site.
“I think it’s too crowded and jammed pack,” she said. Henry offered another suggestion — moving town hall moved to the old library site.
“That wouldn’t be a bad location,” she said.
With election closing in on Nov. 6 and three seats open on town board, a newly elected board may decide soon whether there is going to be a move. Franklin Town Manager Mike Decker is hopeful that a decision will be made, but doesn’t know when.
“When that first decision is made then all these other things will fall in place,” Decker said, referring to the future location of the police and public works departments.
Now that town leaders own the Whitmire property, there has been debate over what the property should be used for if a municipal complex is not built. Scott is a supporter of building a civic center or a park for residents.
“There are all kinds of possibilities,” Scott said. “Now that we own the land there is no major rush.”
But funding a project like a civic center is a cost that town leaders cannot afford right now, Curtis said.
If a civic center is built, the town needs to form a partnership with county officials to help fund a project of this scale, he said.