After an extensive renovation that will include new safety features and implementation of physical distancing in response to the coronavirus, the Newcastle town office will reopen to the public.
The date for reopening is not yet set, Selectman Joel Lind said in a phone interview. Lind said it depends on finding contractors available to do the work.
The remodel, which the selectmen approved during a videoconference meeting Monday, May 11, will include a new wall with sliding glass windows at the front counter, the addition of several new doors to keep employees and visitors physically separate, a new office for the town manager, and a new office for the assessors’ agent.
Jon Duke is currently the town administrator. In a special town meeting March 9, Newcastle voters approved the change from town administrator to town manager, which allows broader authority as the chief executive and administrative official of the town.
The change will take effect after a contract is signed and the town manager’s salary is approved at annual town meeting, set for July 14 and 15. The selectmen have not yet decided on a method for holding the open portion of town meeting during the coronavirus emergency.
On Monday, the selectmen authorized Duke to pursue negotiations with contractors for the renovations.
Lind said the town will take the funds from a reserve account with $30,000 allocated for town office repairs. He estimates that the renovations will cost $15,000-$25,000.
Board Chair Ben Frey, Lind, Duke, and town office staff have been developing the remodeling plan, making blueprints and digital renderings.
Selectman Brian Foote, who works in information technology, helped to develop a strategy for network upgrades with Tidewater Telecom Inc., of Nobleboro. The internet service provider will install a new fiber-optic connection to allow for faster internet speeds at the town office.
“The other thing this does is accomplish some of the things we’ve been talking about for quite literally years now, which is some oddities that currently exist in the town office,” Frey said.
He pointed to plans to remove one of the doors to the office’s public restroom and remove a door to allow staff easier access to the vault.
Duke said the renovations will provide a new configuration to adhere to coronavirus protocols and are a good use of town funds, but do not represent a long-term solution for the town office.
“This really manages a problem that we’re dealing with at the present, it allows us to work with what we have at the present, but it doesn’t necessarily build toward the future. … It’s much more of a reconfiguration,” Duke said.