Cape Charles Explores Options To Expand Town Offices

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By Stefanie Jackson – As the small bayside town of Cape Charles grew into one of Northampton County’s biggest vacation destinations, it also outgrew some of its public buildings, but the Town Council took the first step toward a solution at its April 21 meeting.

A new plan was needed for housing town offices, the police department, the library, and council chambers. A total of five options for renovations and new construction were outlined, and by the April 21 Town Council meeting they had been narrowed down to two: Opition 1 and Option 5.

Option 1 was the least expensive, roughly estimated at about $3.1 million.

The current town hall on Plum Street, which houses administrative offices and the police department, would be renovated and used exclusively for town administration offices.

 A new building would be constructed for the police department and council chambers in a new location.

 The Cape Charles Civic Center, a church building on Plum Street, which currently hosts Town Council meetings, would be sold.

The Cape Charles Memorial Library would remain in its current location on Mason Avenue, and the third floor would be sold.

Option 5 was in the middle cost-wise, estimated around $4.1 million.

A new building would be constructed for town offices, the police department, and council chambers in a new location.

The library would remain in its current location, and both the library’s third floor and the civic center would be sold.

Town Manager John Hozey recommended Option 1 because it would save the town around $1 million.

The Town Council previously had limited Cape Charles’ annual debt service to no more than 8% of its core revenues. (Hozey noted debt associated with town utilities is not included.)

Cape Charles currently is spending around 6.5% or 6.75% of its core revenues on debt service, and if it plans to stay within the limit of 8%, it can borrow only about $1 million more. The remaining cost of the building project would have to be covered by cash and grants, Hozey said.

Option 5 is simple: a new building is built and town employees move in, he said.

Option 1 is cheaper but complicated: a new building is built and the Town Council and police department move in, emptying the first floor of the current town hall. The first floor is renovated, the town offices on the second floor move to the first floor, and the second floor is renovated. Once the renovations are completed, town employees can spread out, Hozey explained.

Vice Chair Steve Bennett preferred moving everyone out of the town hall, which is “too old. You know, we’re going to spend $2.5 million, $3.5 million renovating it. … I think it’s throwing good money after bad.”

Furthermore, renovating the town hall will not solve its parking problems, Mayor Smitty Dize pointed out.

“Renovating an old building is difficult,” Bennett said. Not only will construction disrupt employees working in the surrounding offices, no one knows what structural issues could be discovered as the building is opened up for renovation, adding time and cost to the project.

Councilwoman Tammy Holloway likened Option 1 to “putting lipstick on a pig.”

Bennett made a motion to select Option 5, seconded by Holloway, which passed unanimously.

Cape Charles’ design consultant will begin working on the project design, giving the town about a year to work out the project’s financial details, Hozey said.

He said the new building will be south of the Cape Charles Rosenwald School, near Cassatt Parkway. 

“What I like about that is … people think of the historic district as being the only part of town, but actually that parcel we’re talking about is the geographic center of town, and it’s easy access to anyone from Bay Creek, it’s easy access to anyone from the historic district,” Hozey said.

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