Taxpayers asked to help center’s expansion

AMHERST – The Board of Selectmen has decided the town’s environmental center could use some assistance from taxpayers to help meet its expansion goals.
An article asking voters to approve $20,000 for renovations at the Peabody Mill Environmental Center will appear on the warrant at Town Meeting in March. In addition to providing environmental education for all ages, the center serves as a meeting space for town organizations.
The town bought the building the center is housed in for about $120,000 in 1997. The center is run by the Conservation Commission, which kicked in the bulk of the purchase price.
If approved, the $20,000 would go toward the creation of a 4,526-square-foot, two-story addition currently being built at the center. The building is located at 66 Brook Road at the main entrance to the 500-acre Joe English reservation. A section of the original building dating to the 1920s has been removed already. A newer section built in the 1960s will remain.
If the warrant article gets approved, the tax impact would be an additional $4 per year in taxes for a house assessed at $200,000, said Town Administrator Carl Weber.
An architect originally estimated the project’s total cost to be about $600,000, according to Jan Woodbury, a Conservation Commission member and the center’s director. She anticipates that because of the large amount of volunteer labor the project has attracted, its final cost may come in lower if the work can be done in a timely manner.
The next step is to construct the shell of the building and the roof, Woodbury said. She estimated that leg of the project would cost about $200,000.
There is no timetable for the final completion, she said.
According to the center’s Web site, about $73,000 of work has been done already, including the design, site plan and demolition. The basement has been poured and capped.
Originally, the Conservation Commission and the center’s committee “were bound and determined” not to ask for tax dollars, Woodbury said.
To date, no tax dollars have been spent on either acquiring or improving the property. The Board of Selectmen felt it was appropriate for the group to ask for town help in the form of a warrant article, she said.
The center has raised money through a town-wide capital campaign and state grants, Woodbury said. According to its Web site, the group has raised nearly $100,000 of its listed goal of $500,000.
Checks from townspeople continue to come in, and a volunteer will continue fund-raising efforts in the business community, she said.
The center provides the town with a growing, year-round roster of environmental and science education activities for children and adults and needed more space to house them all, according to the group’s Web site.
The addition will add four classrooms or study areas, a large assembly area, storage space and an office and library. Green technologies planned for the new building include composting toilets, which will be in the basement, geothermal/solar heat for hot water, and a cistern system for recycling wastewater.
A family contra dance fund-raiser for the expansion will be held Jan. 31 from 7-9:30 p.m. at the Amherst Middle School cafeteria. The cost is $5 per person or $12 per family.
Lynn Tryba can be reached at 594-6402 or